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Citizen Review Panel annual report available online

July 01, 2013

Child maltreatment provides both a challenge and opportunity for states to address a vital public health issue. The work of Citizen Review Panels helps monitor and improve conditions for children and families involved with Child Protective Services nationwide.

Arizona’s panel recently completed its annual summary of findings and recommendations, and found complex problems in families coincident with unmet opportunities to increase coordination between service providers and the larger community. These findings have been published online and in hard copy, and are available by mail or download through the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy, administrator for the program.

Citizen Review Panels were established in Arizona in response to a 1996 amendment to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act requiring states who receive these funds to establish panels that evaluate the extent to which the state agency responsible for child welfare is fulfilling its responsibilities.

Creation of the Citizen Review Program is an acknowledgement that protection of our children must be a priority of the entire community, not a single agency. Panel members are citizen volunteers representing a wide range of disciplines. Their duties include review of policies, practice data and case record information, followed by formulation of findings and recommendations that are presented to the Arizona Department of Economic Security. Since the Arizona panel began its work, only a few of their recommendations have not been adopted by the state. Many of the recommendations require strong, supportive partnerships with the community and other agencies in order to be successful.

In 2012 the Arizona Citizen Review Panel members identified thematic areas of focus for case reviews with an eye on emerging trends and areas of concern warranting special examination. The themes chosen were multi-system and involved families, children returning to care following reunification, successful outcomes and active military families. At each meeting, the panel members reviewed a CPS case reflecting one of these themes and were presented with policy, practice and other information to fuel an informed discussion leading to recommendations for both the department and other involved entities on how to improve the child welfare system.

The final report recommendations are based on the larger systemic issues identified from the work of the panels. Factors such as joblessness, increased numbers of veterans returning from conflict and cross system budget cuts have affected the ability of the state to identify, respond to and provide the most effective care. In addition, increased workload and turnover among CPS staff has had an inevitable impact on how well children and families are served.

Panel recommendations are prioritized and divided into three categories: recommendations for agency response; recommendations for current practice and training of staff; and recommendations for child welfare system partners. System partners include biological, adoptive and foster parents, relatives, schools, family and juvenile courts, juvenile probation officers, Guardian Ad Litems, family attorneys, special advocates, community providers and family advocacy organizations. The panels had an impassioned response to what they found as complacency by child welfare partners in responding to, and serving children and families, noting that partners should speak up regarding the current state of the child welfare system and advocate for a better system with accountability from all of the partners involved.

Three key findings emerged from the panel:

• Funding reductions have had a severe impact on the entire child welfare system. In the words of one panel member, “This case is less about abuse and neglect than about the limitations of caregivers and lack of resources.”  

• Undiagnosed and untreated mental illness, due to lack of comprehensive and timely mental health assessments, has exacerbated problems in families resulting in repeated reports and investigations involving the same families.

• Failure to recognize the impact of trauma was a factor in 75 percent of cases reviewed. Post-traumatic stress disorder, a specific type of trauma, was found in 100 percent of the military family cases.

Program manager Karin Kline said the dedication and commitment by panel members to children and families has a direct impact on Arizona communities. Of equal importance, is the support and openness to strategies for improvement by the Arizona Division of Children Youth and Families.

The Citizen Review Panels provide the opportunity to recognize that improving outcomes for children in Arizona and across the country requires the work of multiple systems working together along with community support and involvement. That, in combination with the logistical and administrative support of ASU and the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy, is what makes the work of the Arizona Citizen Review Panels effective.

The complete report can be found in pdf format at A free hard copy can be ordered from