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DES chief: CPS budget a 'good down payment'

DES Director Clarence Carter during an interview at the Miner Thursday.

KINGMAN - Arizona Department of Economic Safety Director Clarence Carter faces some big challenges this year, including dealing with the ever-growing need for more Child Protective Service caseworkers and the expansion of the state's Medicaid program.

Carter was in town Thursday to thank the Kingman Route 66 Rotary for their help in refurbishing two family meeting rooms in the local Child Protective Services office and hopefully recruit more volunteers.

The department recently got funding from the Arizona Legislature for 200 additional Child Protective Service caseworkers, but it's not enough, he said.

The current caseload for CPS workers is twice what the state's standard is, Carter said. The 200 new caseworkers should reduce that load by about 60 percent.

"It's just enough to help us keep our noses above water," Carter said. "It's a good down payment."

In an effort to control costs and cut caseloads, Carter wants to revamp the CPS system and cut down on the number of in-depth investigations the division does.

"There are some cases that don't need a full investigation. They do need support, but they don't need a full investigation," he said.

Reducing the amount of time CPS workers spend on minor cases means there is more time to deal with the cases where children are truly in need of serious help, he said.

"I can't ask for more money until I can better spend what I have," Carter said.

He is also crisscrossing the state in search of new foster homes.

"We don't have enough foster homes. We have massive pressure on the system. There are too few people to deal with too many kids," he said. The department has around 14,000 kids in need of foster homes and only 11,000 homes.

Children are being placed in homes in other counties because there aren't enough homes in their own community, Carter said. This makes the department's job of reuniting families even more difficult because families now have to travel two to three hours to visit their children.

If there are no homes available, then the child is placed in an institution, he said.

"Placing a child in a foster home is not good for their development. Placing them in an institution is worse," Carter said. "We need to get kids to new, permanent homes. We really need the community to step up to the plate."

Some of the other ways people can help, if they don't want to adopt or foster a child, include providing transportation to and from family meeting spots or providing respite care for foster parents.

"This problem is bigger than the agency. We're just a small part of the solution. If we don't have the whole community involved, it won't get done," Carter said. "We're asking for help. If everyone does a bit of something, all of those bits add up and help us strengthen this community."

Residents looking to volunteer or foster children should contact DES' Volunteer Engagement Center at www.azdes.gov/volunteer/ or by calling (602) 542-1991.

"The biggest issue this agency faces is that the state's safety net is designed and operated as independent programs," Carter said. "There's no overarching goal, no broader objective. We need to grow people beyond that point in their life where they need our help.

"I want to create a trampoline that people can use to bounce back into life, rather than a hammock that they can fall into," he said.

Part of that safety net reorganization is moving the department's divisions out of their individual silos, sharing information between divisions and getting them to look at a person's overall needs, not just what can the department do for them today, Carter said.

For example, a person who is unemployed should be able to come into the office and not only get help in getting a new job, but also be evaluated to see if they need help with health care, rent, utilities, food or other services, he said.

Carter also wants to streamline the assessment process so a person seeking help would be able to fill out all of the necessary paperwork through a kiosk. That way, when they sit down in front of a caseworker the information already there and all they have to do is to decide which benefits they need.

"I want to enhance the intent of our services," he said. "Success to me is someone getting the services they need to exit the system."

There are some people who would prefer to stay in the hammock, Carter said.

"Historically, we have not had this discussion in the right tone. There has to be mutual responsibility between the community and the individual," he said. "The community has an obligation to create the opportunities, but the person has to avail themselves of those tools and be held accountable."

It's like a parent teaching a child to cross the street, Carter said. At first, the child holds the parent's hand, but the parent knows that one day that child will have to cross the street by themselves. They're teaching them, preparing them for that day when they will have to cross the street themselves, he said.

One other item Carter's department has to deal with is the planned expansion of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill last week that would expand the system by 300,000 people. The department doesn't run AHCCCS but it is in charge of determining if people are eligible for the program.

"This is going to blow our doors wide open. We're working hard to prepare ourselves," Carter said. The department wants to improve its technology and increase the number of places that people seeking help with AHCCCS can go, including a webpage, kiosks in local DES offices and an enhanced call center.

"We're getting much smarter about implementing technology. We're repurposing our existing systems," he said.

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