Tag Archives: governor

AZ Republic “Kind of” Gets It

In today’s AZ Republic Laurie Roberts writes a column about a child who is suing the state for the abuse she endured in foster care.  It was awful and hard to read, but here is a link to the story:  Laurie Roberts. AZ Republic column 7/10/17

Like any person with a pulse, it is heartbreaking to hear those stories and when I was chair of the State Foster Care Review Board we had to read them consistently and it never got easier.

However, I have to point out that I believe Ms. Roberts is asking the wrong questions.

As DCS and the governor go around the state proclaiming victory, they continue to point out only specific numbers of children in care. In my opinion, that is not even the most important number to be measured and reported. Instead, we should be demanding that we should operate like a business (sound familiar?) and report all the operating metrics of a successful operation. It is akin to a business only reporting sales and never reporting profits, cash flow, volume moved, market share, etc., which is deemed unacceptable by investors! DCS should be reporting and operating under a broad range of metrics and accountability so every child in care has a successful outcome (defined as better off than when they came in to the system).

Last year a small group of local businessmen got together and presented a complete review of the processes at DCS and recommended the type and timing of reporting that would give the department, and then citizens like you and I a real view of where things were working and not working that would give a better picture of what was happening with children. While there was no specific measure of bath temperatures, there were metrics for education, medical, visits, time in care, etc.  When you measure the specific actions of what can lead to a successful outcome, when they fall short it indicates that there are problems in the household. It would not be a stretch that if certain elements of a successful outcome in foster care falling short, there are other issues for that child. If these metrics were used for every case, it would be more clear when there are issues like the one you wrote about today.

Recommendations were made to DCS in a variety of settings and the group was consistently told why it wouldn’t work (none were acceptable answers).  It was also presented to the co-chairs and their staffs of the DCS Legislative Oversight Committee in hopes it would be included in their year-end recommendations but only marginally addressed in those recommendations. Bottom line, there is across the board failure on adding accountability to DCS.

The correct answer I believe the AZ Republic should be asking follows the adage; “what gets measured gets done”. I do not believe you will see MEANINGFUL changes in outcomes for kids in Arizona’s foster care system until we add complete and comprehensive metrics and accountability.

I appreciate that Ms. Roberts is steadfast in her efforts to create awareness of these issues, I just hope she starts asking the right questions.

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. 

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!

Three Reasons Why It May Be Impossible for Arizona to Fix Its Foster Care System

After 15 years of being a foster parent caring for dozens of kids in our home and 15 years of optimism that Arizona would finally turn the corner and care for our most vulnerable children properly, I have come to the disappointing conclusion it may be impossible to fix.  Here are the three reasons why Arizona’s foster care system may never be fixed:

1. Continued lack of operating discipline towards outcome improvements.

Our governor often jumps up on his bully pulpit to discuss his goal of operating Arizona government at the “speed of business” and sets this a goal for every department.  As a business person, the idea that government would operate with the speed, accountability and focus on results as any business would is quite appealing and makes it seem that the services provided by the government would improve and provide an improved return on our tax dollar investment.  However, if operating more like a business at every level is the governor’s goal, why does the Department of Child Safety not get included in this goal?

Operating at the “speed of business” to me means more than just working fast, but operating efficiently and with goals and measures that demand a return on the investment for every tax dollar spent.  You don’t have to be a world class business person to notice how inefficiently DCS operates.   The idea that the department is efficient in caring for the kids in the system, providing services and more important; moving a child in care to permanency, either back to their parents or to a forever family is laughable.

DCS has proven very capable of measuring and evaluating activity for the department.  However, businesses look to affect long term outcomes or value for shareholders.  DCS or its predecessor CPS, has never been adept at measuring and holding itself and its staff accountable for long term improvements in outcomes including the length of time a child spends in care, a reduction of children in congregate care settings and ultimately, lowering the number of children in our foster care system.  Arizona remains one of the few states where counts continue to rise.

Without a focus on improvements in outcomes, like a business goes bankrupt, this department will not operate in a way to meet the needs of its constituents or “customers” and will continue to fail in Arizona.

2. Arizonan’s apathy about the issue.

As with any issue, generally the “squeaky wheel that gets the grease” or better said, the issue that is top of mind to citizens will get the attention.  In Arizona, there are a variety of issues and constituencies that take a much higher priority.  Who is to decide that our broken foster care system is a priority?  You only have to look back to our state elections from last year to see that there were a lot of issues that were brought to the attention of voters.  Child welfare was barely discussed and it was certainly not a reason why a voter would pick a candidate.  Politicians know to talk about the issues that are important enough to voters to give them their vote and no one took on the child welfare mantel to get elected.

At the legislative level, the DCS Legislative Oversight Committee was established to provide oversight of the department.  In the three years of its existence, it has only met a few times a year with very little focus.  If this were a real priority, should this committee not be meeting frequently in an attempt to hold the department accountable?

At the end of the day, Arizona is a state with a transient population.  New residents don’t necessarily believe that they have an obligation to again take care of issues with children that they dealt with earlier in their lives and it will not affect their reasons for being here.  Certainly, this is not something that our tourism industry is concerned about, as it also does not affect them.

And most important all, kids don’t vote so the odds on this changing the apathy is nil if they don’t have a voice in setting priorities.

3. The cost to “do the right thing” will never be funded in Arizona.

The biggest challenge with having a child in foster care is the lack of broad understanding that this experience is a major traumatic event in a child’s life and something that will affect them forever.  This means that there are not only physical needs such as shelter, food, and clothing, but also mental health needs that MUST be addressed early in care and throughout the experience and beyond.  Mental health for children in foster care in Arizona is abysmal.  The common excuse is that there are not enough resources.  That’s funding for services has not been funded.

Kids in care also need education support.  Only 33% of all children in foster care graduate from high school and less than 3% from college.  How in the world do we change the cycle of kids in care if we cannot get them through a basic high school education?  Nearly every child we have cared for in our home was behind in school when they came to our home.  It’s a lot of work to even get them close to where they belong and it costs money.  It costs money for tutors and education specialists and that requires resources and we continue to cut education spending year over year in our state.  Why would anyone fund this type of education if it is not a priority?

There are needs in the courts, for lawyers for preventative care and on and on. In Arizona we tend to put a band aid on issues and hope they go away.  Our system has been broken for more than 15 years.  A band aid won’t fix it, only a major overhaul and not just a band aid in the form of a new name for a department can make a difference.  But again, who has the will push for funding these further?

So what does this mean?  It’s exactly why foster parents do not last long in the system. If we don’t believe that we can do the absolute best for a child in our care, then why try?  For me, it most likely means that it is time to throw in the towel as a foster parent.    For 15 years I have been optimistic that it will get better and I was committed to being part of making it happen.  I was wrong.  Dead wrong.  These kids deserve better. I feel bad about the fact that I didn’t make enough of a difference.

stones joined

These stones contain the hand and foot prints of many of the kids who have lived in our home. They, like all kids in Arizona’s foster care system deserve better.

“The Big Short” in Arizona’s Foster Care System

This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to a movie … usually a rarity for foster parents … and I saw “The Big Short”.  The movie focuses on all the things that led up to the big financial meltdown in 2008 and how some made billions of dollars by paying attention to the leading indicators, while big banks and financial institutions operated as if there were no issues on the horizon. 

As I left the theater, I couldn’t help but think about how the thinking of the big banks and financial intuitions parallels what is happening in Arizona amongst politicians and pundits in regards to our foster care system. 

The movie was very descriptive in explaining how obvious key financial indicators were ignored as industry leaders did ‘business as usual’ in a failing housing market.  No one was willing to look in to the future because living in the present was making people money and enabling them to keep the lives of which they had become so accustomed. 

The most interesting part of the movie for me was when Ben Rickert (played by Brad Pitt) scolded his two young hedge fund protégés for celebrating a recent deal they just completed, pointing out if the investment they just made were successful, it would result in thousands of people losing their jobs, homes and life savings. All of a sudden, the two young data wonks realized how financial decisions can greatly impact people’s lives.  It showed that business was more than just numbers, it was about real people and real lives. 

Sadly, it reminded me of the unnecessary celebration that took place at our state capitol with the establishment of the new Department of Child Safety.  In reality, the new DCS was a testament of past failure and certainly not a prediction of future success.  The key difference from the movie is that there was no one standing on the sidelines to point out that the celebration was uncalled for, and too soon.  The only thing that should ultimately be celebrated is improvements in outcomes for children, not politicians who paste a new label on an old department. 

In the movie, there were a handful of folks who were reading the indicators correctly who had the financial wherewithal to profit from doing so.  In Arizona, there are handfuls of folks who are seeing the numbers, but do not have the ability to affect changes in outcomes.  So we continue to see degradation in outcomes in our foster care system

For years, CPS/DCS has been sharing information with the community about things they are doing to improve the department.  In the same way that big banks did with shareholders who never knew or understood the finer details of how the banks were crushing the housing markets, no one seems to be paying attention to the things that matter most in Arizona’s child welfare system.  For example, the number of children in care is now more than 19,000, nearly double the number of kids in care in 2010.  The time a child in Arizona’s foster care system is now more than two years and growing.  The percentage of kids living in congregate care settings is more than 40% higher than it was five years ago.   These are just three of the key metrics that are critical to improving our system and yet, no one is being held accountable for these outcomes changing. 

We all know what happened during the financial crisis of 2008 because it is in our rear view mirror.  Ignoring key measures in the financial world resulted in catastrophic outcomes for our financial system. 

What will it take for leaders in Arizona to take a look at what is going with key measures of our foster care system and realize that we have a similar risk of a major meltdown in Arizona’s foster care system if we continue to operate it the way it has always been done?   

For the next fiscal year, DCS has already requested an increase in their budget of $100 million over the previous year.  While I am not privy to the details on how this will change the course of the department, I do know that if we continue to go down this path much longer the limited resources of tax payers will dry up and tough decisions on building roads versus caring for kids will have to conflict at some point.  Not to mention that if we don’t fix the required obligations to the IV-E waiver to reduce the length of stay in congregate care and length of stay in out-of-home care, we could risk the current funding received from the federal government. 

There is no doubt that turning around Arizona’s child welfare system is a daunting challenge.  The delay in addressing the key indicators and making meaningful changes and adjustments could be catastrophic to children in foster care in our state, as well as every taxpayer.  It is well past time for a change of course.  There is no ‘bailout’ for children in foster care. Their lives are impacted forever.   It’s time for Arizona politicians and policy makers, led by our governor who believes in “operating at the speed of business,” to ensure that Arizona does not make the same mistakes as short sighted business people in the past.  Let’s hold some folks accountable for meaningful change in outcomes in 2016!

 

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.