Tag Archives: #makingcpsaccountable

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.

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.

Hey DCS … Show Us The Plan!

It’s been a few months since all the politicians and bureaucrats got together for their photo op with the governor to tell us all that they have solved the problem of foster care for Arizona. They patted each other on the back for creating the Division of Child Safety (DCS) and claiming that they were going to finally create the funds for taking care of Arizona’s most vulnerable children. So where are we today? From every account I have heard, not very far. I thought we were promised transparency in this process. Where is the promised transparency? More important, where is the plan?

Children are still sleeping in offices, families being torn apart and dozens of new children entering the foster care system every day. I have talked with the DCS Director and he shared with a group of us the progress he has made in the call center. Good stuff from what I can tell. But where is the actual plan for creating a functional agency? Where is the accountability? And more important, where are the changes that will turnaround our broken system?

I can’t find an answer.

We are in the midst of elections for all the statewide offices. Our next governor will inherit this quagmire. No one governor or legislature specifically owns this problem for lack of action because they all have done so.   Our leaders have let the lack of planning and accountability of all those folks. put us in this situation. It is years in the making and can’t be fixed by “hoping” it changes. If someone doesn’t step in front of this fast moving freight train, it is going to overrun our state and will become one of the most costly, unplanned line items in future budgets.

No citizen wants to see taxes increased or wasteful spending on the part of our government. The only way to avoid either of these is with sound planning. It is how successful businesses move forward. They set goals, they develop detailed plans, communicate those plans to all their constituencies (employees, suppliers, partners, etc.), create metrics for measuring their progress and then hold everyone involved accountable for their part of delivering that plan. It happens every day, around the world in businesses, governments and non-government agencies. Let’s see the plan for DCS on how they will turn this around now!

No plan is perfect and seldom have perfect execution. But DCS has embarked on an important journey. It is a journey that will affect thousands of families and vulnerable children. It will affect millions of tax payers. If you were heading on a journey, don’t you think it would be wise to have a roadmap to get there? If you don’t, it will take longer cost more and perhaps you won’t even reach your destination.

So DCS, show us the plan for your journey!

Arizonan’s deserve to see the plan and know the metrics and hold you accountable. No more closed door meetings. No more veils of secrecy. Just show us the plan. Then Arizona can stop being one of the worst places in America for a child to grow up and instead, focus on growing our economy and making this the greatest place to be in America.

If the taxpayer is the boss, I don’t believe this is too much to ask.

I Want To See The Transparency!

This past spring when Governor Brewer signed in to law the abolishment of the old CPS and created the new Department of Child Safety, there was a promise of increased transparency and more involvement from the community in developing the new agency. One could argue that the development of the laws had all the input of a mushroom farm … folks tucked away high in the Executive Building talking to themselves. We accepted that they would get enough input to make the right decisions on the promise that as they started work, the overall community and specifically, foster and adoptive parents, would be involved in how the new agency operated.

So here we are in the midst of election time. Our politicians are spending time telling their constituents about how terrible their opponents are and why they can govern better than another and all the while, someone is hiring, staffing and putting in new processes for the Department of Child Safety. But who is watching their work? Who is ensuring that this work is driving meaningful change and not just pushing the rock along the road?

The previously established CPS Oversight Committee has not met since the lawmakers met to create this new law. There has not been another Town Hall since the process begun. The one caveat is that I have seen or heard of the new Director, Charles Flanagan, attending some meetings with foster and adoptive parents.

So at the end of the day, where is this promised transparency?

When I think of “transparency” I think of words like; clarity, clearness, openness, accountability and candor.

No matter your political persuasion, have you heard any of these types of things from the new Department of Child Safety? What has changed? What will change? What will not change? What assurances do any tax paying Arizonans have that the added funding that has been allocated to this new department will generate a return on that investment?

Taking care of our most vulnerable children is too important to wait and wait and hope that something is going to change. We must demand change and we need to see what the path to creating that change will be.

This is important work. It’s too important to allow the Dog Days of Summer get in the way of communicating what has been learned, what progress has been made and some indication of what steps will be taken in the next 60, 90, 120 and 365 days to re-make our child welfare system.

All I am asking for is the transparency that was promised. Simple communication will go a long way. Articulating a solid plan will go even further!

Your politicians want your vote in the coming weeks. Tell them you want transparency for the new Department of Child Safety in return. It’s only fair!