By Gregory McKay, Director, Arizona Department of Child Safety
Protecting more children with the resources we already have. Is it possible? Yes, it is. We all agree that Arizona’s children deserve our very best. So, first, let me be very clear – there was no truth to the August 17, 2016 editorial, “Streamlining foster care is government speak for cutting services.” The Department of Child Safety (DCS) has not, and will not, cut services to children and families. The number of services is growing, as is our capacity to deliver them. And thanks to new efficiencies, these services will be provided at a significantly lower cost to the taxpayer.
For far too long, Arizona’s child welfare agency operated under duress, responding reactively instead of proactively. That reactivity led well-intentioned people to request more money to care for children and families. But, what’s been our return on investment? A decade of increasing costs without improving services or outcomes? More drug addiction, more reports of child maltreatment, more children in foster care, and children still dying at the hands of abusers.
These results shout for change; and accountability. DCS must be accountable. And so must parents. And so must the business partners we trust to deliver care to the children and families of Arizona.
Arizona taxpayers afford us the means to protect and care for children suffering from neglect and abuse. This should inspire us to do our very best. But we all haven’t done that.
What’s the real story? The real reason behind the article accusing the State of cutting cost will make you want to hide your wallet.
Here are the facts. The article references two specific services provided to children and families. One helps parents improve parenting skills, and the other provides an observer to be present while a parent and child visit. Coincidentally, they are the two services currently under spirited contract negotiations between provider companies and the State.
Why are we engaging in these contract negotiations? First, we are accountable to deliver high quality services that provide children with a safe, stable life. Second, we must be accountable stewards of taxpayer dollars with utmost respect for our citizens. Third, the need for DCS services that strengthen families and keep children safe continues to grow as a result of societal ills, and so have the costs. We simply ask to pay a reasonable rate for quality service.
This is not a small chunk of change. In fiscal year 2015, DCS paid $49 million of taxpayer money for these services. In fiscal year 2016 we paid $74 million. That same year, we served over 14,000 families with a projected 10% increase in services provided for the rest of this year.
In the spirit of good stewardship, we reviewed service providers’ existing contracts. In some instances, we discovered that while DCS pays $80 per hour for a company to provide a supervised visit, the company paid their employee between $11 and $13 per hour. $80 per hour just seemed unreasonable, so we asked to see a breakdown of cost overhead.
Here’s what we found - state funds being used for gym memberships or massage therapy, staff-to-management ratios of 2 to 1, paid dining expenses, new laptops for every employee, and recurring monthly costs of $500 for car seats. How many families replace their car seats every month? The difference between the cost of the service and the administrative overhead was a stunning 84%. That is extremely high in any industry, not to mention organizations caring for vulnerable children, paid with taxpayer dollars. So I ask you, the taxpayer; “Do you approve?”
Our contract negotiations will bring the rates down, cut out the fat, and allow for an estimated 10% increase in service capacity without increasing costs to the taxpayer. This is simply good stewardship of hard earned taxpayer dollars, and our citizens deserve nothing less. Accountability and efficiency must increase and as it does, our outcomes will continue to improve. But waste and abuse will not be tolerated. We’re implementing reforms to better care for the state’s most vulnerable children while being respectful with your taxpayer dollars.
So I ask you, the taxpayer; “Do you approve?”