PHOENIX (August 12, 2016) - The Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) is pleased to report that measurable agency wide improvements continue with month over month gains that help strengthen families and keep children safe. These gains are in part due to DCS’ ongoing implementation of a strategic management system. The system is focused on effectively identifying and resolving critical issues, concentrating on accomplishing identified improvement goals, and implementing standardized employee performance metrics that increase ownership and accountability, thus improving service delivery.
“For far too long, our child welfare system has been steeped in crisis and reacting to emotionally charged events,” said DCS Director Greg McKay. “We are committed to setting goals, reaching them, and then setting them higher. In the end, this will have brought the best outcomes for our children.”
The implementation of the DCS Management System creates continuous and sustainable improvement of agency processes through emphasizing the development and adherence to standard work. The system is comprised of six areas: 1. People Development, 2. Standard Work, 3. Leader Behaviors and Standard Work, 4. Tiered Accountability, 5. Problem Solving, and 6. Visual Management. With this system, DCS has developed agency and field operations scorecards as well as local department management tools. These scorecards and tools produce a forum for process based discussion and accountability, enables problem solving, and guides data informed decision making to support the continuous improvement model adopted by DCS.
Measurable gains to date include reaching a significant milestone in the agency’s short history. For the first time in over two years, the number of children exiting DCS care is greater than the number of children coming in to DCS care. During the period of April through June of 2016, 3,276 children exited DCS care, compared to 2,881 new children entering the system. This milestone illustrates that concentrated efforts to safely reunify or find forever families for children already in the system, together with careful application of standardized best practice procedures regarding when to bring children into DCS care, have successfully begun to reduce the total number of children in out-of-home care. Additionally, the majority of children exiting DCS care are finding a forever home through family reunification, adoption, or legal guardianship with 1,486 children have been adopted between January and June of 2016.
DCS has also reversed a 9-10% increase year over year of children living in out-of-home care. If this trend had continued, DCS would currently have over 20,000 children in care. At the beginning of 2016 there were 18,861 children in out-of-home care. The most recent verified numbers from May, 2016, show 18,622 children in out-of-home care. The upward trend has now been reversed and the number of children living in out of home care are projected to continue trending downward.
Additionally, the 15-month trend of closing more reports than come into DCS has continued, with inactive cases (no documentation entered or no services provided for over 60 days) now below 6,500, compared to its peak of more than 16,200 in early 2015 – a 61 percent reduction. This reduction allows DCS staff to use their time and resources more productively. The decrease in backlog has also contributed to decreased staff turnover, with the net result an increase in overall field staff. In June of 2016, the number of case-carrying staff was 975, its highest level since October, 2015.
McKay further noted, “People are our priority, but numbers are important. They inform us, they keep us honest, and they help every employee measure and be accountable to the children they serve.”
All agency improvements occur within the backdrop of the department’s continuing focus on providing family support and prevention services. Successful prevention programs such as Building Resilient Families, which identifies families in need and provides appropriate support before a crisis hits, and the Healthy Families AZ educational program for at risk expectant and new parents are contributing to the reduction in children who might otherwise need DCS intervention due to neglect or abuse.
There has been substantial progress, and the numbers are trending in the right direction. The Department recognizes that there is still serious work to do, but celebrates the progress of a dedicated staff that vigilantly cares for and about Arizona’s most vulnerable children every day. The agency remains focused on its’ vision that “Children thrive in family environments free from abuse and neglect.”