Officials with the state ombudsman and Foster Care Review Board said today the Arizona Department of Child Safety is not providing information through their online database that other offices need, and when the agency does, it is filled with frequent errors and holes.
Ombudsman Joanne MacDonnell told a committee of lawmakers that her office is coming up against walls and being denied access to information they need from the DCS “GUARDIAN” database, which went live on Feb. 1, 2021. MacDonnell said that DCS failed to provide training materials that her office asked for and is blocking their access to hundreds of subcategories of information.
The Ombudsman’s office is a go-between for citizens who have issues with state agencies.
“The question of access with our office and the Department of Child Safety has been an ongoing concern. It predates GUARDIAN,” MacDonnell said.
DCS shut the Ombudsman’s office out last year when errors in the new system delayed payment to families with foster children, as reported at the time by the Arizona Republic. MacDonnell said that despite this year’s problems, it’s an overall improvement.
DCS Director Mike Faust told the panel that 30% of his department’s case files on foster children list the wrong caregiver, according to new data he received on Monday.
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, wanted to know specifics.
“Could this impact a judge’s decision based on whether or not removal needs to happen? What would be the most egregious outcome that was unintended because of this lack of information?” Townsend asked.
Faust emphasized that many of the “bumps” in the DCS system have been solved recently, but he said he wants to “narrow in on access to the system” and sit down with MacDonnell.
“We’re engaging, we’re having conversations,” Faust said. “It’s not for a lack of trying.”
Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Faust as the director of DCS in 2019. Since Faust’s appointment, the number of uninvestigated abuse claims has dropped. The number of children in foster care overall also dropped recently.
Faust said that there is a review of each case every six months, but a DCS specialist also comes to the court every 90 days. He called the two systems “redundant.”
Caroline Lautt-Owens, director of the Arizona Supreme Court’s Dependent Children’s Services Division, said that while it’s true that DCS officials appear at the court every 90 days, the court process is entirely different from the review process. At the review, case managers and families can speak.
The panel of lawmakers also questioned Faust about a recent murder at a group home in Phoenix where one foster child shot and killed another with a stolen gun.
An anonymous social worker with experience at the home, North Star Independent Living Services, said in a letter that there are several problems with the facility ranging from broken furniture and spoiled food to frequent violence, drug dealing and overdoses that are brushed aside by management. The worker asked the committee to shut down North Star and Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, asked Faust to turn over information and reports on the facility to her.
“This is a pretty damning testimony here,” Barto said. “I think we’re gonna need those answers.”
Faust agreed to turn over several pieces of requested information to the committee, sit down with MacDonnell and return for another report in a few weeks.