Over the course of four years, a team at Arizona's Child Protective Services agency has been marking cases in a particular way in order to cut down on their workload, the Associated Press reported.
The chief of Arizona’s child welfare system, Clarence Carter, said 6,000 cases called into the child abuse hotline were never investigated so that workers could focus on the most severe cases.
Arizona law says all reports to the state hotline must be investigated.
In some cases these ignored reports led to deaths and criminal charges against social workers, the Washington Post reported.
"I don't know of any fatalities," Gregory McKay, the agency's chief of child welfare investigations, told ABC News.
“This is a system that years ago was dubbed a poor system for poor people, and very often the resources are not there to do this very difficult and very important work,” Dr. Howard Dubowitz, a pediatrician who studies child protection policies at the University of Maryland Medical Center, told The Post. “The notion that this is a system that is nicely equipped to fulfill its mandate is often a dream that some of us are hanging onto.”
"The idea that there are 6,000 cases where we don't know whether or not children are safe, that's cause for grave alarm," said Carter, who oversees CPS as director of Arizona’s Department of Economic Security.
Gov. Jan Brewer (R) called the incident “absolutely unacceptable.”
"There must be accountability in this matter, and I will insist on further reforms to make sure that it cannot happen again," Brewer said.
"This reconfirms what we've already known about the system, which is that it is overwhelmed and can't function appropriately," said Dana Naimark the Children's Action Alliance. "It needs revamping and needs more resources."
Carter said plans to investigate the ignored cases will be revealed on Monday.