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State Rep. Eddie Farnsworth isn't afraid to speak his mind.

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on Mon, 03/19/2012 - 17:47

Farnsworth, a Gilbert Republican, was often the lone voice of opposition during recent deliberations of the Arizona Child Safety Task Force. He had opposed giving Child Protective Services too much authority or moving too quickly to legally separate parents from their children.

Farnsworth agrees with a task-force recommendation to sharpen law-enforcement focus on the most serious child-abuse cases. But he also believes the state should do its best to reunite families once it removes children, even if that means spending more on services for parents. From a "small-government guy," that's saying something.

"My belief is that, as long as it's reasonable, we ought to reunify (families)," Farnsworth said. "Because it's the parent's right to raise that child."

Farnsworth, 50, is the father of seven and an attorney who operates four East Valley charter schools. He was involved in the last two CPS reform efforts during his first four terms in the House, including sweeping changes in 2003 that required joint investigations between police and CPS for cases involving suspected criminal conduct.

He said the problems and systemic challenges remain much the same, but that he senses a greater willingness from Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter, who oversees CPS, to make fundamental reforms.

Farnsworth's views are representative of many conservative Republicans, whose votes are required to pass legislation and approve potential budget increases. He talked with The Arizona Republic recently about Arizona's child-welfare system and where he thinks the recommendations might lead.

Q. There was some disagreement among task-force members about how quickly the state should move to legally separate children from their parents (called "severance" in juvenile court).

A. That's the balance. I don't think anybody has the perfect answer ... Expedited severance is something I've expressed concerns about. We don't want to sever without time to consider in a reasonable, rational way.

I look at these things and say, who has the natural right to parent? For us to limit that right or sever that right, we have to decide that a parent has given up that right. The children also have the right not to be abused ... and the state has an obligation to protect them. But there's still a right to parent, so we also have an obligation as a state for reunification ...

I want to make clear that no child should be abused. But the argument that the state is perfect in its protection of children is a fallacy. We have deaths in foster care.

Q. The task force heard from experts in early-childhood development and from Maricopa County's presiding juvenile-court judge (EddwardBallinger) about the long-term damage to children who lack consistent caregivers as well as the trauma of being removed from their homes.

A. I think kids are very resilient. Sometimes we are so quick to sever parental rights and family relationships simply because a study says they will do better. Obviously there are homes that children should not be in. My concern is that we do not go too far the other way.

Q. What's your overall view of the task force recommendations? (More than 100 proposals were compiled from testimony, task-force member requests and public comments. The task force eliminated about 50 of them before forwarding its recommendations to Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday.)

A. Some I agree with, some I have concerns about ... I am committed to having trained law enforcement involved when you have a criminal (abuse) case. Opening up the process more to the light of day. We treat CPS different than we treat almost any other area in the penal system ... My constituents are terrified of CPS because they have almost unfettered power. Opening up the system will help.

Q. There's likely to be a request for more CPS funding (particularly to hire new specially trained investigators). What do you think the Legislature will do with that?

A. If that can be justified, I think most (lawmakers) think we should support CPS. This is what's refreshing about director Carter; he didn't put the cart before the horse (and ask for more money before being able to defend it) ... I think you'll probably see a Legislature that will be favorable to that.

Q. But isn't that growing government?

A. It is growing government. But it's a proper role of government. We're talking about the protection of children ... There is no foolproof system, because there are no foolproof people. That's why this isn't going to be the last iteration of policy. This is an ongoing process of revising policy when it comes to the protection of children ...

I'm a small-government guy. I do think, though, that when we take somebody's children, we do take on an additional burden ... If we have parents who want rehabilitation ... we have to help in some way because we have taken their child. We have inserted ourselves in that relationship.

Q. The recommendations don't include much in the way of child-abuse prevention. Is that the role of state government?

A. That's where I think we have to be careful. Is it government's role to prevent bank robbery? Is it government's role to prevent assault? ... I'm willing to go further with Child Protective Services than other areas of government -- it's a proper role. But children are still going to be abused. Children are still going to die. You're going to have employees who botch cases. You're never going to stop those things 100 percent.

by Mary K. Reinhart - Jan. 2, 2012 10:23 PM
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