The Department of Child Safety’s new director outlined plans on March 23 to turn around Arizona’s ailing child welfare services in front of a legislative committee.
Director Greg McKay spoke in front of the Child Safety Oversight Committee for the first time since Gov. Doug Ducey appointed him in February.
McKay previously worked as the head of the Office of Child Welfare Investigations and is credited with the November 2013 discovery that more than 6,000 child abuse reports phoned into the Child Protective Services hotline had been illegally closed without investigation. That revelation led then-Gov. Jan Brewer to remove CPS from its parent agency and remake it as a stand-alone agency.
In his testimony, McKay laid out plans to deal with the backlog of approximately 16,000 inactive cases. He said the agency is developing a new priority system based on a child’s vulnerability.
“Moving forward we can’t treat every case as equals, which is what we’ve done until now,” he said.
McKay said the DCS standards include immediately responding to all cases involving newborns exposed to drugs and any case where the child is younger than 5 years old. McKay also plans to provide foster parents with a package of information detailing their child’s background and medical history and improve the agency’s employee attrition rate.
Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, called McKay’s plans vague, but said the agency needs more time to develop a strategy.
“I got a sense that Director McKay is trying to get a grasp of the agency and to establish some leadership, but clearly there is much to be done,” she said.
McCune Davis said the Legislature should pass proposals focusing on prevention and early-intervention services.
Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said she’s satisfied with McKay’s plans and thinks they emphasize child safety.
“I’m starting to hear things that I expected to hear back when we first formed the agency,” she said.
Brophy McGee said she’s working with McKay to pass House Bill 2098, which increases the department’s transparency in the cases where a child dies or almost dies.
An auditor general’s report released in March found that Arizona received between 33,000 and 44,000 reports of child abuse and neglect annually between 2008 and 2013. The report found that the number of child abuse and neglect cases has been similar to or exceeded the national average.