By Linda Kor
With the recent news that 6,554 reports of child abuse and neglect were shelved without being investigated by the state’s Child Protective Services (CPS), area residents may be wondering how many of those cases are from Navajo County. That determination has yet to be made as officials continue to sort through the cases, but law enforcement officials in the area are already making plans to investigate each case and one agency has been taking measures for nearly the past year to ensure that children in the county are protected.
According to Jim Molesa, chief deputy of the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office, the Independent Child Care Advocates Examination Team (CARE), the oversight panel formed by Governor Jan Brewer, has been in contact Sheriff KC Clark, who is also president of the Arizona Sheriffs Association, to see if the sheriffs involved in that association would assist with investigating the cases that were mishandled by CPS.
The process involves sorting the cases by Zip Code and giving them to the agencies that provide law enforcement coverage for that area. Deputies will then contact the individuals who made the claim and investigate the circumstances to determine what, if any, action needs to be taken to secure the safety and well being of any children involved.
Molesa noted that the NCSO has been investigating unassigned CPS cases since last February.
“When I first came on with the sheriff’s office earlier this year I approached Sheriff Clark about having deputies follow-up on all incidents within the county reported to CPS and he felt that was a great idea,” explained Molesa. He agrees with reports that CPS is understaffed, perhaps making it difficult to process cases in an efficient manner, but his concerns over the general operation of the agency prompted the decision to provide follow-up.
“We receive a fax of every call made to CPS. It states on that report if a case has been assigned and if it has, we file the document. If we see that it hasn’t, we send a deputy out to speak with whomever made the call, usually by the next day,” stated Molesa.
The two agencies have the same authority to handle calls regarding physical or sexual abuse, but it’s CPS that arranges for placement and protection if the child is removed from the home. Once contact has been made, the sheriff’s office has three forensic examiners who are able to conduct interviews specifically for children who may be in a situation involving physical and/or sexual abuse.
If it appears that abuse has taken place, an investigation is started, CPS is notified regarding the action being taken and the two agencies work together to ensure the child’s safety. When asked how many cases in the county CPS failed to assign, Molesa said he couldn’t say since the sheriff’s office would move forward and notify the CPS once contact was made.
Molesa said that regardless of who is responsible, right now is not the time to point fingers.
“First and foremost is the safety of the child. There have been arguments about who is at fault and that will all be sorted out eventually; right now we need to protect the children who may have been victimized and left unprotected.”
As of Dec. 20, the CARE team had assigned more than 2,100 of those cases to investigators. An update noted that more than 1,100 children identified in the reports have now been seen and more than 1,000 cases have had contact by law enforcement.
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By Linda Kor