Accountabilty, Process Improvement and Working Together. It is All it Should take to turn Around DCS

It has been a more than year since the Arizona Legislature decided to scrap Child Protective Services and start up the Department of Child Safety.  So has this been a meaningful change?  Simply, no.  In that time, the number of children in our state’s foster care system has increased from 15,500 to more than 17,500 kids in care and the budget has grown in excess of $800 million.  We have had two directors of the new agency and of course, two governors in that same time frame.  All the while, the length of time that kids stay in care has increased and there are more kids in congregate care settings, all of which are poor reflections on the state of child welfare in our state.

So who is to blame?  Shall we blame the department and their leadership? Shall we blame the governors and legislators?  Shall we blame foster, kinship or adoptive parents?  How about the media for fanning the flames? Simply, no.  Every citizen in Arizona owns responsibility for the sad state of affairs of child welfare in our state.  Why?  Because the citizens of Arizona are not concerned enough to rise up and make this an important enough issue to be a topic of importance for any of the above.

We need Arizonans to educate themselves on the situation we have and demand the following from each other, lawmakers, the media and the foster care workers in our state:

  1. We must have an accountability system for those running the system and hold them accountable for changes.
  2. We must change the way we act and think about child welfare. Our system is broken and no one is demanding meaningful changes in how our processes work
  3. We must treat every child in the state, whether they are in foster care, in our schools or on our playgrounds as though they are treasured gifts we are responsible for helping thrive in our state.

Let’s start with accountability.  In the most recent strategic plan submitted by the Department of Child Safety there are many great ideas to help improve our system.  However, DCS has not signed up for any measureable changes.  There are no commitments on how many kids will be in foster care in 2016, 2017 or 2018.  There are no metrics for how the department will cut the times kids in care or lower the use of congregate care settings, which happens to be a key measure for future federal funding for the department. If there are no goals, how can we expect things to change?

Let’s be honest, this is a turnaround situation.  The reason DCS was formed was due to the impotency of its predecessor, CPS.  In business, when a company is in desperate need of a turnaround, measuring progress against predetermined outcomes is critical.  There is an old saying; “what gets measured gets done”.

Until we have a strong accountability system for DCS we should not expect things to get done.  So instead, let’s put one in place and hold those managing accountable.  When the progress is not being made, let’s quickly retrench on our plan and work until it does.

Second, we have to change the processes at DCS.  While the department has changed names, little else about how they do their work has changed.  We need to overhaul the processes in which care for these kids.  Albert Einstein once said that the definition of “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.  We should know better than using the same systems and processes at DCS that have been used for the past ten years.  It’s time re-engineer child welfare process at DCS just as a broken business would do in their turnaround of an underperforming business.

There is a lot of talk that DCS is underfunded by lawmakers.  Personally, I do not believe that money is an issue nor do I believe that throwing more money at DCS will solve the problem.  DCS has a budget of more than $800 million.  That is more than $45,000 per child in care.  The problem is that these resources are not organized or being used efficiently to solve the problems.  This is just one example:  only half of the headcount at DCS is used for front line case workers.  Perhaps if systems and processes were improved the head count can be redirected to front line case managers instead of non-case carrying personnel?

And while we are at it, let’s stop the finger pointing and instead start supporting the DCS Director, the staff and especially the case workers who are doing the front line work.  When I go to a Diamondbacks game, at the beginning of every third inning they have first responders and military stand to be acknowledged.  That is terrific and when those folks stand, smile and wave to the crowd, they are proud of their service.  How about in the 6th inning, we have all front line workers who care for our children including; case workers, case aids and school teachers stand up and acknowledge the work they do to make our state great.  These are folks that have tough jobs that few of us have the skills or the willingness to do.  Let’s start by showing appreciation for them and the work they do for years and years to help our treasured asset … our kids.  Talk about rooting for the home team!

I am not a politician so I don’t care to understand why politicians or the media play the finger pointing game.  But let’s stop.  There is no more important asset to a business than its people, and that businesses have programs to take care of their employees and key staff.  Let’s take a similar with child welfare and rally as a community around the kids that are in care and support them with energy that will result in meaningful change, not to sell newspapers, win a campaign or to keep a job but to create a system that will enable them to thrive.

Have you ever seen a successful crew team?  Crew teams row as fast as they can to win a race across water.  Who wins in crew?  The team that has the best coordinated process and works together at the same time and in the same direction.  Let’s take a lesson from crew teams and start working together instead of against each other and develop an accountability system, better processes and treat our children as our most treasured resource.  Who knows, maybe in five years Arizona can be recognized across the country as a state where we care and value children more than anything.  That could be great for business development too!

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