The World’s Best “Pretend Listeners”

In a call the other day with a colleague, he described DCS (Department of Child Safety) as “world class pretend listeners”.  At the time, I chuckled but after thinking about, I find it to be a very insightful thought. 

Over the past 15 years of being a foster parent I have sat on many committees or groups to help make lives better for those kids who touch Arizona’s foster care system.  No matter how much time I spend in these meetings, there is one consistent outcome … not much changes or improves. 

DCS asks families to sit in focus groups, presents to groups and provides reports at places like the Legislative Oversight Committee.  But at the end of the day, the presentations are largely lacking in real, actionable information, and DCS is not ‘listening to’ as much as ‘talking to.  This is not to say that the good folks at DCS do not work hard nor are their intentions not good.  The fact is, they listen a lot.  But I think that is what makes them the world’s best “pretend listeners”.

Let me be clear in the fact that this is not necessarily a knock on the quality of the people at DCS.  Many of them are very good people who have nothing but the best intentions to help kids.  The fact of the matter is that while they pretend to listen, at the end of the day they will do exactly what they want to do despite what input they receive.  Perhaps this can happen because of the lack of accountability for outcomes in places like DCS?  In business, my experience has been that shareholders, board members or even customers hold companies accountable.  You cannot “pretend listen” to a customer or they stop working with your company!  This doesn’t happen often with DCS.

So how do we stop DCS’ “pretend listening”?  The only way for external constituents to hold DCS accountable to end this practice, is to have accurate and detailed data published in a timely and consistent fashion for a broad base of measures.  When this happens, the conversations can change from theoretical, broad based discussions to meaningful dialogue about the department’s performance against real outcomes.  Frankly, I believe it will make DCS leadership a much more powerful voice and give the community more confidence in the work, when they can address facts rather than the broad strokes they report today.  So it can be a win-win if the leadership looked at it this way!

I wish I could “pretend care”.  But I can’t.  There are too many bad situations for kids in Arizona and I want us to get better.  Raising the bar and looking at the right measures is the only path to more meaningful and relevant discussions on how we can all improve outcomes for Arizona’s kids.  Please join me in this discussion! 

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