The Arizona Community Foundation has awarded a three-year grant to the Arizona Republic to “support in-depth investigative reporting about child welfare in Arizona,” according to a column on the newspaper’s website today.
“Foundation funding for journalism feels new, but it’s not without precedent, and we believe it holds great promise,” said the column, written by Republic Vice President of News Nicole Carroll. “The Arizona Community Foundation grant will enable a deeper look than we’ve ever been able to take before, by supporting extra reporting time and resources and multimedia storytelling to explore the problems in new ways. Our journalism remains independent.”
Carroll references a few members of the staff who will likely be involved: Reporters Karina Bland Mary Jo Pitzi, and columnists Laurie Roberts and Linda Valdez. Also, longtime Republic investigative reporter Bob Ortega will rejoin the staff for this project.
It would be hard to find a state child welfare system more in need of a thorough look by local media. In 2014, the state reorganized child welfare under the newly-created Department of Child Safety, shuttering the old Child Protective Services division. The impetus: a massive backlog of un-investigated abuse and neglect reports.
But just a month into 2015, new Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey dismissed Charles Flanagan, the man that former Gov. Jan Brewer had tapped to lead the state’s reforms. In his place, Ducey appointed police officer Greg McKay, who as head of the Office of Child Welfare Investigations was the first to raise the issue of the backlog. McKay had also raised concerns about the way that Flanagan, who had previously run the states juvenile justice system, was conducting the triage of un-investigated cases.
During 2015, both the number of backlogged cases to investigate and the number of children going into foster care increased. After McKay dispatched a deputy to a legislative review of DCS in late December, the Republic called for Ducey to fire his new director.