Tag Archives: DCS Strategic Plan

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!

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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!

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.