More upsetting news continues to come out of the Department of Child Safety. Most recently, The Arizona Republic reported that DCS Director Greg McKay admitted that department “money was not well spent.”
Not long after announcing that his agency failed to spend money on the programs it was intended for and that he could not account for all of the agency’s spending, DCS submitted a funding request for the 2017 fiscal year, including a request for an additional $65 million for this fiscal year.
At the last meeting of the Arizona Legislature’s Child Safety Oversight Committee , Director McKay provided shocking testimony. He said candidly that many employees are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of their caseloads. He shared that an employee confided that many of the staff have boxes under their desks of “abandoned cases that came from the last people that quit,” and that there is pervasive concern that a child in one of the cases in those boxes could die.
He made these comments after a Chapin Hall presentation outlined the findings of an audit of the Arizona child welfare system. The audit showed that the state faces challenges in safety as the number of reports and investigations is much higher now than it was five years ago. It also indicated that family preservation and support, as well as permanency, are problems because the number of children in foster care and the length of time they spend in foster care have both increased in the past five years.
During the hearing, Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix (District 30), asked if the governor or the governor’s staff have requested a briefing on the report– the answer was not reassuring.
Clearly, it is more important than ever that leaders at DCS take steps to protect Arizona’s children. It is also clear that Director McKay and Gov. Ducey are not showing the leadership to make that happen. The agency previously received nearly $30 million to reduce the backlog of cases to 1,000 by June 2015, but instead, the number of uninvestigated cases has grown by more than 1,000 in the last year and is now at least 14,707. Rep. McCune Davis later said that the Legislature “gave (DCS) extraordinary resources to address the backlog a year ago…and these numbers are still rising.”
The situation with DCS remains critical, although DCS did recently release a new plan with five strategic goals. Child safety advocates recommend a three-tiered approach to translate that plan into action that includes increasing in-home services, developing clear and consistent decision-making protocols for DCS and increasing DCS capacity to match the workload.
The bottom line is that Arizona’s children do not seem to be safer now than they were a year ago. We must #AskDuceyWhy he hasn’t shown the right kind of leadership in protecting some of Arizona’s most vulnerable children and why #Oneyearlater the DCS backlog is higher than before.
To review the entire Child Safety Oversight Committee hearing, click here.