fox and chicken cartoon illustration

Commentary by:
Terri LaPoint, Assistant Editor
Health Impact News

Is it a case of the foxes guarding the henhouse?

All states are federally-mandated to have some type of citizen review panel for Child Protective Services cases, but a recent decision by Arizona’s Department of Child Safety Director Greg McKay will move that citizen review panel in Arizona in-house, within the Department of Child Safety, by the end of the year.

Presumably, a citizen review panel is designed to provide some level of accountability to the Child Welfare/Foster Care system, allowing for an objective third party to evaluate cases and ensure that parents’ rights are not being violated and that children are truly being protected.

Critics and parents fear that Arizona’s move to in-house review panels will only serve to further insulate corrupt officials and lead to less, not more, oversight and accountability of the Department.

The concern is that these new review panels will become merely an illusion of accountability, far-removed from any substantive oversight. Some might consider the dog and pony show to be a colossal waste of tax-payer dollars.

Recently, an Arizona Court of Appeals published a finding that many parents have experienced as a harsh reality – that a child was removed illegally from the home primarily because they were “adoptable.”


Arizona Judge: Child Removed from Home Illegally – Only Reason Was Child Was “Adoptable”

Federal Requirements for State Citizen Review Panels

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was sponsored in Congress by Senator Walter Mondale (D-MN) and Representative John Brademas (D-IN), and it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon (R) on January 31, 1974.

This is the federal legislation that got the ball rolling for Child Protective Services agencies to be formed all across the United States.

Later, in 1997, President Bill Clinton signed the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) into law, opening the floodgates for financial incentives to states to take children from parents and adopt them out to strangers, whether or not the parents were actually abusive to their children.

Both CAPTA and ASFA remain in effect today, and there are federal mandates to states in order to keep the cash flowing. CAPTA has been amended several times, the most recent occurrence in 2010.

A 1996 amendment to CAPTA, Public Law 104-235, called for the Citizen Review Panels.

Each state that receives federal money for Child Protective Services (in other words, all 50 states) is required by the law to establish “not less than 3 citizen review panels.” The amendment states:

‘(2) MEMBERSHIP.—Each panel established pursuant to paragraph (1) shall be composed of volunteer members who are broadly representative of the community in which such panel is established, including members who have expertise in the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect.

(3) MEETINGS.—Each panel established pursuant to paragraph (1) shall meet not less than once every 3 months.


(A) IN GENERAL.—Each panel established pursuant to paragraph (1) shall, by examining the policies and procedures of State and local agencies and where appropriate, specific cases, evaluate the extent to which the agencies are effectively discharging their child protection responsibilities in accordance with—

(i) the State plan under subsection (b);

(ii) the child protection standards set forth in subsection (b); and

(iii) any other criteria that the panel considers important to ensure the protection of children, including—

(I) a review of the extent to which the State child protective services system is coordinated with the foster care and adoption programs established under part E of title IV of the Social Security Act; and

(II) a review of child fatalities and near fatalities (as defined in subsection (b)(4)).

Do Parents Know about the Citizen Review Panels?

Only one family who has told their story to Health Impact News has mentioned anything about their case going before a citizen review panel. In that case, the parents were able to present evidence in their case that had been ignored and swept under the rug in court.

The evidence led to the children eventually being returned home.

Hundreds of parents have told us that, if only their evidence could be heard, they are certain that they would be exonerated.

Overwhelmingly, the families who contact us have abundant evidence of their innocence, as well as evidence of wrong-doing by social workers, supervisors, doctors, Guardian ad Litems, attorneys, and even judges.

Yet, that evidence is frequently not permitted to be presented in court, leading to much frustration in parents who are fighting for their children.

Contact Us if You Have Experience with Citizen Review Panels

If the citizen review boards are run by the very people who took the children, who sometimes hide and falsify evidence, where does that leave parents who are looking for those in the system to be held accountable?

We want to hear from you. Is there indeed a citizen review panel in your state, as is federally-mandated?

If so, who runs it? Is it run by citizens who are truly objective, or is it run by the very people who benefit from the system?

Do parents have access to such a panel, or is it held in such secrecy as to be irrelevant?

If you do not know of such a board in your state, call your state legislators and Child Protective Services and ask about it. Let us know what you find out in the comments.

Arizona DCS disbands citizen-review panels, brings oversight in-house

by Mary Jo Pitzl, The Republic |


The state’s child-welfare agency is disbanding citizen panels intended to bring an outside view on its work and is moving the effort in-house.

Critics, surprised by the Nov. 21 notification from Department of Child Safety Director Greg McKay, say they fear the move will further insulate DCS from outside oversight on its operations.

Greg McKay Arizona DCS director

Greg McKay – Arizona’s DCS director. Photo source.

The agency casts the change as a streamlining move, and national experts say it’s not unusual to have the federally mandated citizen review panels be run by the child-welfare agency they were created to advise.

The important thing is to maintain independence, said Blake Jones, a University of Kentucky social-work professor who has taken on the informal role of tracking the work of these panels nationwide.

“At their core, these panels need to have some level of autonomy from the agency,” said Jones.

He coordinated the state of Kentucky’s panel for 15 years as an outside adviser.

Last month, McKay thanked the panels and ASU for their work, but gave them notice the contract would end this month, when each panel submits its annual report.

DCS will manage the panels in-house. A newly created position, expected to be filled in January, will coordinate the three panels, as well as the agency’s various advisory committees, McKay wrote.

Becky Ruffner, who heads the northern Arizona review panel, is skeptical that the shift will result in an independent eye on DCS’ work.

“If you’re picking the people, and you’re providing them the only information they will see, that does not speak well for transparency,” she said.

Read the rest of the article here.