PHOENIX — An Arizona lawmaker on Thursday called for changes in state law to allow ongoing testing of parents whose babies are born exposed to drugs after a child who was returned to her parents died of apparent abuse.
Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said she'll sponsor a bill in the next session to allow the state Department of Child Safety to drug-test parents who are reunified with their children after losing custody because of drug abuse.
Her comments came less than a week after a 3-year-old Surprise girl died of apparent abuse, at the end of a lengthy hearing on the state's trouble child welfare agency. She praised new department Director Greg McKay for releasing details of the agency's prior contact with the child even before a new state law requiring the disclosure takes effect in July.
"It was a horrible, horrible tragedy, as they all are, and we have to learn from it," Brophy McGee said. "And we can learn from it, because instead of fighting you for information that you have not been able to disclose, we have a whole lot of information either from your agency or you directly."
Alexandra Velazco had been placed in foster care at birth because she tested positive for methamphetamines but was returned to her parents after they completed substance abuse and parenting classes, according to the child safety department.
Authorities filed murder charges against 28-year-old Carlos Cruz and 36-year-old Rosemary Velazco after the death of Alexandra Velazco, who weighed just 15 pounds. Neither Cruz nor Velazco has a lawyer yet, but in a jailhouse interview with a Phoenix TV station Tuesday, Cruz denied sexually and physically abusing his daughter.
Brophy McGee said she'll sponsor a law requiring parents who lose their children because of drug abuse be regularly tested even after a court case is closed.
"We as policymakers must act and give DCS the tools to effectively deal with drug-addicted parents and keep their children safe," she said. "We require professional athletes to pee in a cup before they play a game. Why do we not require this of drug-addicted parents who want to be parents again?"
McKay's agency released a synopsis of prior contact with the child and her family early this week. After Alexandra was born in 2011, the agency took custody of her and her older brother, and they were returned about a year later. On Thursday, he provided additional details, saying the agency had taken custody of another infant in June, but the parents told social workers Alexandra and her brother were out of the country.
"Was that true or not true, we're not sure yet," McKay said. "We know that ... the people that were arrested in this had admitted they were deceiving our department. Now, would I like to be able to have the time to have DCS case workers conduct surveillance for days at a time to find a child? I wish we did.
"But we did take measures ... to try to locate and ensure the safety of this child and her brother, and we're looking into why that didn't happen."