Arizonans need to know that the Department of Child Safety (DCS) is making real progress at safely reducing the backlog of inactive cases and reports.
There have been some critical errors in reporting from various media outlets, so here is what this really means. A report of alleged child abuse or neglect will come to DCS, usually through our hotline, and then a case is created from that report. An investigation will begin to see what actions need to be taken.
When Director Greg McKay came to the agency in February of 2015, there were more than 16,000 open cases, many of which were inactive because documentation had not been entered for more than 60 days or services were not provided. It should be clarified that open cases do not mean that investigations and appropriate interventions did not occur. All cases in the backlog must be thoroughly reviewed by a team of child welfare professionals to ensure every safety criteria has been met, but in many instances, backlog cases were already fully investigated but only lacked a signature or other minor documentation to be closed.
This is a significant point that a recent news article failed to grasp. DCS cases will include notes about previous allegations made against a child care provider. But allegations only mean that someone has made a claim about abuse or neglect. Many times those allegations are found to be unsubstantiated and DCS has no basis to act upon them. A mere allegation can’t predict someone’s future behavior. And this media report even described a tragic fatality in a case that was never a part of the inactive backlog.
Under the new DCS leadership of Director McKay, DCS has been remarkably successful at reducing the backlog of open cases, lowering service provider wait times by more than 80 percent since July of 2015, and lowering the wait time for calls to the child abuse hotline from an average of three minutes to its current 34 seconds. And as we head into April, the backlog has dropped below 11,000. All of this success is due to solid leadership and the tremendous commitment and effort of DCS employees.
Contrary to critical errors in reporting that some media outlets make, including errors in reporting data accurately or interpreting professional terminology correctly, there is holistic progress being made at DCS. For example, reducing the case backlog doesn’t take away from the critical mission of DCS to ensure that all children thrive in a safe environment. In fact, it means that our child welfare professionals can do more work in the community, helping the families who need it most.
DCS is committed to continued improvement, and the tremendous changes we’re making are being addressed at a very rapid pace, increasing the efficiency of the overall process of caring for Arizona’s vulnerable children.
Our children and families deserve no less.