PHOENIX (Wednesday, November 2, 2016) - In recent weeks, the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) Director Gregory McKay has articulated the need for the agency to continue strategically improving services for Arizona’s children and families. At the time DCS was created, more children were in state care than the system could effectively manage. Resources within the agency, the courts, and the foster care community were strained beyond capacity. Conducting business as usual was not an option; the agency had to develop a strategic roadmap to overhaul the broken system. The challenge was to focus finite resources on root causes of the problems that, when corrected, would lead to systemic recovery.
Success to Date
The first initiative has been a safe reduction in the backlog of open inactive cases. The backlog has been reduced from over 16,000 to just above 4,000. Additionally, the total number of open reports has been safely reduced from over 33,000 to below 12,000 today.
The second initiative included updating policies/procedures in the Safety Discussion Guide, additional training at the hotline and in the field, and development of field safety experts with technical assistance from Action for Child Protection. The result has been improved clarity and supervision of the safety decision-making process. This process determines whether children can safely remain in their homes with appropriate support services, or must be removed to protect children from further abuse or neglect. As a result of this initiative, fewer children have entered the system than exited for the last eight out of ten months. This reverses a seven-year trend of year-over-year growth. Based on the growth trend data, the number of children in care should have been over 20,200 today, and as of August 31, 2016, that number is just over 18,000.
A critical outcome of focusing on these priorities is that the strain on the system is lessening. As unmanageable caseloads are reduced to sustainable levels, caseworkers are able to spend more time with children and families, increasing service quality. They also gain capacity to more effectively meet reporting requirements and fulfill attendance responsibilities at court hearings and foster review board meetings. Currently, caseloads have come down to manageable levels in all areas but Maricopa County, which still remains strained, due to population density. Efforts are ongoing and progress is being made in Maricopa County. Another positive outcome is that worker retention is improving as workload is reduced to a manageable level.
Next steps for success
According to Director McKay:
Our team at DCS has worked extremely hard to accomplish the gains we are discussing today. Their focused efforts have created the opportunity to move from an unsustainable system at max capacity towards a truly effective child welfare agency focused on serving children and families with excellence. We are committed to continuing on the path towards Arizona becoming the safest place in the nation for children to grow and thrive.
Work will continue with the above initiatives. Their successful outcomes have triggered the next phase of the roadmap - a strategic shift of resources to the permanency efforts now underway at DCS. Currently, DCS has seen a 9% increase in children achieving permanency (reunification and adoption) over the prior year, and more than doubles the national average for kinship placement. The permanency initiatives are outlined below:
- An Office of Prevention has been established to strengthen families through education, provision of resources, and programs to meet specific family needs. Services are implemented collaboratively with resource service providers and community organizations. Healthy Families AZ is a program for at-risk families with infants designed to prevent drug use, increase infant health care, and promote education and economic stability. Prevention services help families remain intact, eliminating the need for children to come into DCS’ care.
- Through an agreement with the federal Department of Health and Human Services, DCS has launched a ground-breaking program titled “Fostering Sustainable Connections.” This program will help children living in group homes and shelters to connect or reconnect with people who have been important in their lives, giving them the supportive relationships they need to thrive. For many children, the program is able to identify families who can provide a home for them, thereby reducing the number of children living in group homes and shelters.
- To speed the path to permanency for children already in care, government and community partnerships are created and/or strengthened, including:
- FAST Pass - a new partnership between agencies to significantly reduce the time families spend applying for resources such as income and nutrition assistance, health care, and child care.
- The Young Adult and Transitional Living initiative - collaboration with the Department of Housing to secure affordable housing and facilitate successful transition for young adults aging out of the foster system.
- The Safe Reduction Work Group initiative - training, information sharing, collaboration and coaching for court staff regarding judicial review of child welfare cases.
- Community and faith-based partnerships – a large number of organizations work with DCS statewide to support foster families. For example, our relationship with CarePortal helps meet the vital needs of families caring for vulnerable children in their homes. DCS informs CarePortal of family needs, and CarePortal connects churches to the families, providing tangible items such as cribs, beds, clothing, etc.
There is a great deal of progress at DCS, and much work remains to be done. The agency is grateful for the support of its mission to strengthen families and achieve permanency for Arizona’s children. Staying the course so that children can thrive in family environments free from abuse and neglect is the right thing to do. Arizona’s children deserve nothing less.
For more information on the Department of Child Safety’s 2017 FY Strategic Plan, visit: dcs.az.gov/news/dcs-strategic-plan
To help meet the needs of Arizona’s children in foster care, visit: KeepAZKidsSafe.org