A Look Back: AZ DCS Failure Continues, More Studies Planned

crying child

While Governor Ducey’s men throw Arizona’s reformers under the bus in order to prevent the prosecution of politically protected fraudsters, the Department of Child Safety proceeds to collapse under the weight of an unqualified leader, Greg McKay, and the noses of lawmakers who wish the issue would simply go away.

While the need is urgent for a qualified leader, who is capable and willing to make tough choices and the necessary reforms, the Governor has opted to study the issue. Despite the fact that nearly everyone knows what is broken in the system, the Morrison Institute and the Department of Child Safety (DCS) has partnered for a three year project to examine “neglect assessment and prevention policies.”

The project’s first white paper, The ‘Neglect of Neglect’: Exploring the Less-Visible Side of Child Maltreatment, was released on December 14.

The irony of its focus on neglect is not lost on foster parents, who are forced to deal with the neglect of over-worked and ill-trained case workers. It was not lost on families who are trying desperately to do what they have to do in order to get their kids back home.

In October, the Arizona Auditor General released a report outlining the many cracks through which many families fall on a daily basis across the state. The report made several recommendations and McKay dismissed almost all of them out-of-hand.

More than 18,000 children are currently in the system. According to sources, up to 40 kids a day are removed from their families. Very little is done to find safe family members with whom the children can be placed, and virtually nothing is done to prevent a removal.

In November the Arizona Child Fatality Review Program’s annual report on child deaths was released. The report found:

In 2015, 53 of the 87 children who died from maltreatment were from families with prior involvement with any cps agency (61 percent). Among the families who had prior involvement with a cps agency, 17 families had an open case with a cps agency at the time of the child’s death (32 percent); 34 families had no history of cps agency involvement (39 percent).

The number of children from families with prior cps agency involvement increased from 36 in 2014 to 53 in 2015. The number of families with an open cps case at the time of the child’s death also increased from 11 in 2014 to 17 in 2015. Eight of the 87 maltreatment cases involved a Tribal cps agency or involved out-of-state cps agencies.

Despite that report, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery says things are getting better. KTAR.com reported in November that Montgomery said the system “used to be broken but now it is moving in the right direction has become more cooperative in improving services for kids.”

Maybe it has become more cooperative with his organization, but that would be the exception.

The Phoenix News Times reported on McKay’s lack of qualifications in February:

Before his appointment, McKay headed up the DCS Office of Child Welfare Investigations — the arm of the agency that looks into criminal conduct — as an on-loan employee from the Phoenix Police Department, but he was never in charge of managing a huge bureaucracy.

While some of his critics also have taken issue with his focus on investigating criminal conduct, others point out that he’s probably not even eligible to serve as a low-level caseworker for DCS, let alone run the agency — case workers are required to have bachelor’s degrees, and according to records obtained by New Times, it does not appear he holds an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, though he lists on his resume that he attended Pennsylvania State University.

Of course, a college degree doesn’t necessarily make or break a great DCS director, but as New Times has written before, McKay’s critics feel the management and leadership skills he’s demonstrated over the past year do not demonstrate that he’s qualified, much less great.

He is woefully under qualified, but he is a good foot soldier. For the Ducey administration that is all that matters. The numbers speak for themselves. McKay is missing the mark:

Warning graphic language
Melissa Diegel was live.

It is in keeping with the Ducey administration’s practice of wasting money on schemes and failed programs; think HEA Plus. It is also not a surprise that Morrison is now involved. More studies despite the fact that not only do we have the Auditor General reports, we have an independent review that was conducted by the Chapin Hall Center for Children (Chapin Hall) in 2015, and multiple Arizona Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs), which are periodic reviews of state child welfare agencies administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

We have watched parents like Melissa Diegel, who are trapped in the system that slowly drives them to distraction. We have heard from foster parents, who don’t understand why they can’t get the most basic services for the kids in their care. We have heard from extended family members who were denied the opportunity to care for at risk kids because the system is fueled by money that seems to award placements with strangers.

We know what is wrong. We know that what we are doing is failing. What we don’t know is if Ducey will have the will to do what he needs to do to protect kids trapped in a failing system.

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