Tag Archives: Greg McKay

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. 

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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.