Q&A: Is DCS on the way to reform?
The Republic | azcentral.com
Into the Mind: State Rep. Kate Brophy McGee assesses efforts to fix the broken child-welfare agency.
As one of the key child-welfare advocates in the state, are you satisfied with the direction of the new Department of Child Safety?
It is obviously too soon to tell, after only a year. We should remember that real reform of a broken, under-resourced-for-decades agency, shrouded in layers of bureaucracy, takes time, patience and dedicated funding. The creation of this new agency set the stage, but until we deal with the problems inherited from the old agency and redefine what success looks like for the new agency, the system cannot begin to change.
I am greatly encouraged by recent reports showing significant improvements at the front end of the system – the hotline. Average waits are down to less than a minute, 100 percent of reports requiring an investigation have been assigned, and for the first time in many years, the amount of closed cases exceeds incoming new reports. If we can keep pace with calls coming in, we can reduce the backlog. The front end was always where we had to start the change and it looks like we are there. The tide is beginning to turn.
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee on Tuesday gave the DCS basically a failing grade for coming up short on progress and answers. What do you make of this?
It’s the downside of real transparency – elevating this agency to a higher level of scrutiny, and telling the plain, unvarnished truth about where the agency is. Plus, we are going into an election year. As “Give ‘Em Hell” Harry Truman said, “All I did was tell the truth and they thought that was hell.” The scope of questioning in the committee was quite broad, going beyond the report that was on the agenda and into specific, individual detail not readily available without prior notice. That led to questions that could not be answered, although the agency representative wanted to help. If JLBC wants an agency director present, that needs to be specified in the call.
Do you share JLBC’s frustration about the dearth of information coming from the department?
Yes, I share that frustration, as does the agency itself and its managers. At the same time, the information has to be accurate and responsive. In the past, we’ve had reports that were timely, but not trustworthy. I have much more confidence in the information we are getting now.
Why do you think DCS is having so many start-up problems?
I would worry if it did NOT have start-up problems because I would worry we weren’t being told. The separation of DCS from DES was a massive undertaking, further complicated by a change in executives, and a change in agency management earlier this year. The agency has made significant progress in identifying agency problems, and we must enact administrative and legislative solutions to solve these problems. DCS needs stability and certainty over time, and must be rewarded, not punished, for telling the truth.
Are you confident we have the right director in place at DCS?
What can we do to address the problem of so many Arizona children (19,000) living outside their homes?
Remember that many agencies are involved when a child is removed from the home, including the State Attorney General and the Courts. I will sponsor legislation this session to increase funds so these agencies can deal with that backlog. Putting the blame solely on DCS for the backlog is easy to do, but not honest.
Do you foresee any important legislation on child welfare in the coming year?
The agency is requesting a number of statutory changes improving operations and reducing the number of reports that require unnecessary investigation. Examples include abuse that occurred decades prior and cannot be substantiated, or a current report with insufficient information to even identify and/or find the child. We are wasting a lot of agency resources on these unproductive activities. Funding the DCS budget request, along with the AGs and Courts as pertains to DCS, will be a critical decision.