On May 29th Governor Brewer signed in to law the establishment of the new Division of Child Safety (DCS) to replace the broken Child Protective Services (CPS). There is good cause to celebrate this work as it is an important time for Arizona as we look to reinvent how we care for our most vulnerable children going forward. But despite all the well-deserved accolades, high fives and pats on the back for the hard work that was accomplished by those involved, let us never forget that the real work starts now!
It is more important than ever that the foster and adoptive community continues to push for changes in how we investigate, care for and support these children and to hold the new DCS accountable for real change. DCS is just getting started and while the new legislation does a good job of explain “what” the new DCS should be doing, it does not actually set out to define any specific outcomes to define what keeping children safe actually means. More specifically, there are no performance metrics included (and frankly, maybe that is not the place) that will enable the people of Arizona understand what actual progress has been made. For example, should the number of kids in care increase or decrease; should Arizona be spending more or less per child in care; should we have specific educational, health (medical or behavioral) goals from this new process, and what is the role of foster parents in meeting the specific needs of the children in their care? At the end of the day this department is becoming one of the most costly programs in our state’s annual budget and I believe that if we can make it more effective and align the investment with outcomes we can eradicate the need to go through this process ever again. But we have to be diligent and keep the issues top of mind as DCS is being formed.
The legislation specifically requires an external review including the development of accountability mechanisms. However, who will decide that those are the mechanisms are the ones that measure real change and not just activity which has historically been the issue with CPS? At the end of the day, there is still a lot of important work to be done and we cannot rest on the fact that there is a new department with a new name and therefore all will get better. Director Flanagan himself has said that it is likely that things will get worse before they get better with all this change. With this in mind, we need to track the progress being made at DCS and make sure they build in the accountability and metrics for all of us to track that progress.
There are more than 16,000 kids in Arizona in the foster are system. Is that not enough reason for us to reform this system? If there is any kid in Arizona that is not getting an opportunity to be successful, to grow into a healthy, happy and productive member of our community and to live in a safe environment, then we all have the responsibility to step up. Don’t rest on the laurels of the good work that has been done with the new legislation. Perhaps you can volunteer for the new Community Advisory Committee? If nothing else, please read Director Flanagan’s letter about expectations for DCS staff and hold them accountable (if you need a copy, just email me or post your thoughts here).
The opportunity to improve child welfare and more important, to take better care of the children of Arizona, has never been better. Together, let’s hold the new Department of Child Safety accountable for meaningful change by helping to set the expectations, measuring them against those expectations and ensuring that our children can thrive!