Tag Archives: Chidren’s Rights

Does Child Welfare Not Work Because it is Too Expensive?

This week the US Department of Agriculture came out with an estimate that it costs more than $233,000 to raise a child to the age of 17, not including the cost of college.   This amounts to almost $14,000 per year for food, clothing, transportation and all the things that make it possible to bring the little “bundles of joy to adulthood.” 

Could the cost of raising a child drive the reasons why child welfare is so dysfunctional?  I doubt it.  Let’s be honest, politicians make budget appropriations where the votes go and money flows and kids don’t vote nor do they make campaign contributions.  That’s not to say that politicians don’t care about kids.  I am sure they love their own children and many go above and beyond to be great parents and grandparents themselves.  But kids in the child welfare system don’t have lobbyists, PR firms or even adults who can speak for them.  So what happens?  Other priorities happen.

Arizona has one of the worst track records in foster care in the country.  Every governor has talked about it, but results have been poor.  Recent good news from our current governor was that for the first time in seven years, the Department of Child Safety (DCS) is taking in fewer kids than are leaving the system.  That is fantastic new and we are optimistic that it will continue.  But do we know for a fact that it will continue?  No, we don’t.

We don’t know because the Department only publishes limited information.

For those of you who have read my blog previously, you know that I have been hawkish about the need for better reporting and accountability at DCS.  Late last year I was invited to sit in with some of the leaders at DCS and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budgeting on a project to simplify and consolidate reporting.  At the outset, it was acknowledged by the leaders of the meeting that we could also submit suggestion for improved reporting.  I was optimistic that this government was truly going to “operate like a business” when it came to child welfare as the governor had promised when he campaigned for the office.

There was a small group of independent (defined as having no contracts or responsibility to the system) folks who worked and developed a well thought out and thorough recommendation for reporting.  At the end of the session, a recommendation was sent to the governor that included none of those recommendations.  In all my years of trying to help with foster care issues in Arizona, this was as disappointed and frustrated as I have ever been. 

I do not believe that the requirement to improve child welfare is only about money nor is it only about influence.  Money helps and if kids could speak for themselves it would help their cause, but transparency and accountability in reporting is the key.  Until the folks in decision making roles take this seriously, we may never know if DCS is on the right path.  In the meantime, we can just hope they are, or in my case, hope that someday they will use simple tools to measure, evaluate and hold themselves accountable for real progress. 

Advertisements

Hello, McFly? Can’t You See That Nothing Is Changing?

In the “Back to the Future” movie series when the obvious is overlooked, they use the phrase, “Hello McFly” to insinuate that there was something obvious that was missed or overlooked.  I can’t help but ask the same question … has anyone noticed that major outcomes are not improving with the new Department of Child Safety?

In May of 2014 Governor Brewer created this new department with the intent of improving performance and outcomes for kids in care.  And where are we?  In the third quarter of 2014 there were more than 16,000 kids in care. Today, there are more than 19,000.  Despite the fact that the number of kids in care has declined nationally, Arizona is increasing the number of kids in care.Out of Home foster Care

Source:  Child Trends DATA BANK, Foster Care, “Indicators on Children and Youth”, Updated: December 2015; and Child Maltreatment Report, Children’s Bureau (2000-2014); Arizona Semi-Annual Child Welfare Report on Child Welfare (March 200- December 2015).

If there was no other fact to examine, we have to ask ourselves why we are taking kids away from their homes at such a greater rate than what is happening nationally?  Something is wrong! “Hello McFly?”

Some may argue that the number of kids in care is not really a measure that tells how DCS is actually performing because there are other issues at hand.  For example, when the number first started growing so dramatically the economy and recession were blamed.  The worst is now behind us and yet the numbers continue to grow at alarming rates in Arizona versus other states.  Some blame that prevention programs were cut at the start of the recession and this drove the intake numbers.  There are two sides to that story.  First, there were some dollars provided for in-home services that were redirected to foster care.  Bad call.  Second, there are new dollars that the legislature has assigned to prevention and to their credit, they have put some controls on that allocation.  There is a need for much greater control on what is happening with our children!  “Hello, McFly?”

The DCS Legislative Oversight Committee has developed a report for the key measures that align with national evaluation of performance.  Two of those key measures include length of time in care and change in congregate care that will demonstrate how or if we are improving outcomes in our system.  So let’s look at how we are doing there.

Here is a simple chart that shows how may kids are in care and for what length of time.  More and more kids are spending more and more time in care, away from family and support that can best help them flourish.

Length of time in careSource:  Arizona Semi-Annual Child Welfare Report on Child Welfare (March 2000-December 2015)

While this chart shows the total numbers, the percentages of kids and the time have not improved. This is an important outcome that DCS needs to make a priority!

The following chart shows where kids in care are placed.  I was both surprised and pleased the first time I saw this chart that so many kids that are taken in to care get placed with relatives.  In the same vein, I am equally surprised but disappointed at the growth in numbers of kids in congregate care settings. Placement type This number is up 50% since 3Q 2014 and must stop.  It not only obvious (“Hello McFly”) that the best setting for a young person is in a family, but the costs of congregate care the highest of any other type.  Use of congregate care for our children must stop and this must be a priority for DCS.

 Source:  Arizona Semi-Annual Child Welfare Report on Child Welfare (March 2000-December 2015)

In previous postings I have pointed out that when kids go into foster care it is undeniably traumatic. It is traumatic to their well-being.  This is demonstrated in the fact that only 39% of Arizona kids in care graduate from high school and less than 3% ever graduate from college.  I recently heard a great question about foster care: “Is the cure worse than the disease?”.  What a sad question to ask, but probably a good one.  The budget for DCS is equivalent to more than $40,000 per child in care.  We are spending inordinate amounts of money on our system with poor outcomes.  We need to just ask the question that other than children who are subjected to criminal conduct situations, are we really improving their opportunity for a happy, successful life my taking them in to foster care?

So what do we do?

In a June 15, 2016 press release the Department wrote about measuring “progress by the numbers.”  Unfortunately, they are measuring he WRONG numbers.  I would encourage you to check out the news release and see for yourself.  The department is reporting on activity, not outcomes!  “Hello McFly!”

For my 15 years of being a foster parent this is how the department talked about what they were doing.  From a business perspective, it is akin to a sales people talk about how many presentations they made or how many free samples they gave away.  It doesn’t matter!  When it comes to sales, all that matters are the outcomes or how much you sold.  If you sell a lot, you are a great sales person.

It’s time that our elected representatives hold DCS accountable for outcomes in numbers that relate to kids in care, numbers in congregate care and length of time they spend in care.  Processes are broken, we are failing in improving our system and kids are suffering.  If we do not focus on improving outcomes for any kid in care, then we have little to no chance of actually improving the opportunity for them to have happy and successful lives ….. “Hello McFly!”

To me, it’s obvious that we are no better off with the new DCS.  I am disappointed that elected leaders just shuffled the deck chairs.  All the while, the well-being of more than 19,000 kids is sinking.

Do you have a comment or suggestion, please leave one!  Thank you!

Child Welfare in AZ is at an All-Time Low Point and We Must Hold People Accountable For Change

This past month has been an interesting one for me.  I have come across a lot of different situations with different folks in different roles that touch the Arizona foster care system.  I have met with our new case manager, our licensing agency, been to court for a hearing for our current child, met with folks from the Department of Child Safety, including volunteering at the new intake center, talked with a couple different media outlets who are reporting on the current crisis and even tried to get the attention of legislators who are writing the very rules that are supposed to improve our system.

Being a foster parent for more than 14 years I have always had an optimistic view that things have to get better.  I have always tried to be optimistic but the tide has turned for me and I am not sure any if I can be optimistic any longer.  My daughter and her husband also became licensed foster parents in this last month and I am honestly not sure they have a positive situation to look forward to.  Arizona’s child welfare system is at an all-time low and there is no clear path for turning it around.

Here is why I am concerned:

  1. Our new case manager is a very nice lady who has been with the department for two months, and while she is very nice young lady, she is hardly prepared to handle any sort of a complicated case. We have a new case manager because the previous one, who had been with the department for less than a year, quit because she felt that she couldn’t help kids in the way the department was run. How sad is that? Turnover is rampant, caseloads continue to exceed recommended national standards and the Department of Child Safety has yet to hire the authorized number of case managers that our legislators have authorized. 
  2. We are caring for a three year old child who has been with us for nearly a year and nothing is moving forward. This is young child who has already had a birthday party while in our care and there is no clear path to permanency for her.  We were recently told that the earliest they could schedule a severance hearing would be in February 2016! If this is the earliest, she will have been in foster care for more than 18 months at that point … more half of her life!   That is just wrong. So In court this month I pleaded with the judge to do something and referenced the 1997 Adoptions and Safe Family Act that is supposed to shorten the time-frame for a child’s first permanency hearing, No surprise, but I was ignored by the judge (technically, I have no standing so not surprising). No lawyer, no case manager, no one pushed for permanency in this hearing. That is also just wrong.
  3. We continue to recommend a concurrent case plan for this little girl, which means the state will identify a potential adoptive family at the same time they are working to reunify her with her biological parents, but no progress has been made. It is all lip service, with no sense of urgency, so the plan for this little girl seems to be that she linger in foster care at a time when her brain is developing and she needs permanent relationships in order to thrive. If case managers had more support, more understanding of the rules and laws, and of course, more experience they would be the champions of children, not the paper pushers of bureaucracy.
  4. In my visit to the DCS intake center I met some amazing people that work there, but even more amazing young kids who are in a really bad situation. Volunteering there reminds me that every kid is special and they just need a hand from someone who cares for them. Unfortunately, they are in a situation they cannot control. This intake center however, is not a permanent answer. While it is certainly a better situation than a dry, cold and unfriendly office environment it is not a good long term solution. As a volunteer I have no idea what the situations for these kids are, , but I can’t help but think that with an intensive intervention of home and family services, many of these children don’t have to be there. DCS needs to expend as much effort preventing kids from coming in to care as they do taking them in to care.

With all that said about challenges throughout the foster care system, there is the one thing that has pushed me over the edge and the beginning of my total loss of faith in our system to care for our most vulnerable children.  I have reviewed the most recent Department of Child Safety strategy document.  There are some very good activities listed in that document and I sincerely hope they can implement many of them.  While I was reviewing the document, I had a call with a legislative staff person about it.  She noted that if they do all these things she “hopes” that things would get better.  Really?  We “hope” things get better?  How about some accountability here!

There is nothing in the DCS document that directly says WHAT they are going to accomplish.  In other words, the department did not commit to any meaningful change in outcomes and maybe worse, no one out there is holding the department accountable for any specific improvements.

Here are some simple goals that I believe DCS should add to its plan and then align their activities to achieve them.  If they do, they we will see meaningful improvement in outcomes.  All the measures here appear in the DCS Legislative Oversight Committee Dashboard and are requirements for Arizona to qualify for the Title IVE waiver from the Federal government so they can and are being measured today.

  1. Number of kids in care (e.g.:  no more than 15,000 kids in care by 2017).    Another option:  Reduce the number of children entering out-of-home care to a maximum of 5 per 1,000 population (this would get your same result and/or achieve letter C below)
  2. Number of children/percent of total in congregate care (no more than 15% of total children in congregate care/2,200 children and less than 5% of children under 10 years of age).
  3. Reduce the length of stay of children in care by achieving a ratio of no more 6.5 kids in care per 1,000 population   (this aligns with DCS’s 3rd goal in the DCS document and supports letter A above as well but assigns a targeted outcome, not just activity)
  4. Increase permanency for children in care without increase reentry  (there are two measures in the Oversight Committee Dashboard that can be used here). 
  5. Increase placement stability to achieve no more than 2 moves per 1,000 days in care (Again, this relates back to the DCS plan but assigns a measureable outcome)

So here we are at a time in Arizona’s history where the foster care system has never been more dysfunctional.  I find it hard to believe that anyone who lives in our great state finds this situation to be an acceptable state of affairs; either citizens or those in government.  So it is time for the leadership in our government who is responsible for this to realize that we must change outcomes as listed above and that it will require a renewed effort to improve processes, communication, increased understanding and outreach and most important, hold those who are managing our system accountable for improvements.

It is admirable that DCS has a strategic plan in place.  But a strategic plan without accountability and measureable outcomes is nothing more than a “to do” list with no requirements to meet a deadline.

Arizona Politicians Don’t Love Kids

OK, maybe I am paraphrasing Rudy Giuliani here, but after a great deal of consternation and lost hope, I have come to a new conclusion that as a whole, politicians in Arizona just don’t care about kids. It might be better said that it is obvious that kids are just not a priority for Arizona politicians.

It’s not that politicians don’t love children; as many seem to be very good parents, pay attention their kids and I am sure, love their children immensely, it is however, becoming more and more obvious that caring for our most vulnerable children beyond those in their own household is just not a priority.

In my 14 years of being a foster parent, I always tried to be optimistic and believed that it would get better and have been involved in many ways trying to be part of the solution. The time may have come to where I have “jumped the shark” and no longer believe that it can or will get better.

In most cases, our system continues to only become worse. There are more kids in care, more kids not receiving basic services they need to thrive in their younger years and there is really very little being done about it via our politicians. Our system is broken and there is no sense of urgency to do anything.

It has become so bad that last month that New York-based Children’s Rights organization came to town and filed a lawsuit on behalf of all the kids in care. This not some frivolous lawsuit to make a point, they want to hold the Department of Child Safety accountable for providing basic services to kids in care. Seriously? It is so bad that folks from outside our own state believe there is grounds for a lawsuit? This is bad news folks! Not only does is say how poorly we are caring for our children, we have to spend valuable resources defending against it when we should be focusing on world class child welfare that would be the envy of other states!

So why am I so frustrated?

Nearly a year and a half ago, after discovering how poorly we were managing cases coming in to Child Protective Services, our former governor and leaders decided that forming a new cabinet level department and department separate from the unwieldy Department of Economic Security would be the best move. And where are we today? More kids in foster care in Arizona than any time before, they are staying longer in care, receiving fewer services while in care and there is not one single bright spot that can be identified anywhere in this system as a result of these changes. Outcomes remain shameful and kids are suffering because of it.

So in the last month, our new governor decides to bring in a new director to lead the charge. I suggested to him on the campaign trail and then again through his organizing committee that he look across the country and find a person who has a proven track record of success in this area, that we needed a person with a long history of leading change, turnarounds and was fully engaged in other successful child welfare programs somewhere else. Distressed companies do this often and search for CEO’s who have experience and a successful track record for running similar businesses so I believed it was a thoughtful recommendation.

Instead, he decided that the right person was a former police officer who was the person who identified the problem investigations in the first place. Greg McKay, the new director is a wonderful guy. He has a heart the size of the Grand Canyon when it comes for caring for kids. He is tough, gets things done and works hard. Director McKay will work his tail off to be successful at DCS and he will put his heart and soul in to the effort. However, he has to learn on the job. He has to learn on the job at a place that is severely broken and which historically has not enjoyed the support and resources that it needs to do the job that needs to be done. Every morning I wake up and pray that the new team is successful. But let’s be honest, if you are a child in foster care, and the state that put you there doesn’t see you as a priority, then what are the chances of your life improving in the state’s care? My guess is that we are talking slim odds for the 17,000 kids in foster care.

I will continue to do my little part the best I know how and try to provide input when asked. However, I believe it will have to be more like going to a baseball game where I sit in the stands, cheer on my team and just hope that we win. The sad part is that thousands of kids strike out in Arizona because of the lack of priority politicians have for them. In baseball, the millionaires just go home to their hot tubs. The difference is just sad. Very sad.