The long-awaited independent audit of the Department of Child Safety will be made public sometime today. It's unclear what the verdict will be, but if recent statistics and news reports about the downward trends of the agency are any indication, there's likely to be a lot of constructive criticism.
The Arizona Office of the Auditor General was mandated by the state Legislature in 2014 “to retain an independent consultant with expertise in child welfare system planning and operations to examine the current child safety system and consider best practices to improve the delivery of services in Arizona and provide consultation on the effective establishment of DCS.”
According to Kim Hildebrand of the Auditor General’s office, her agency “put out a [request for proposal] last year” and selected Chapin Hall, a research and policy center at the University of Chicago “that focuses on improving the well-being of children and youth, families, and their communities.”
The deadline for the report is July 1, 2015, though both Hildebrand and a spokeswoman for Chapin Hall confirm it will be published today.
The Department of Child Safety, AG’s Office, and Chapin Hall have been very hush-hush about the methodology and findings of the audit report; all three declined to comment on the report until it is released publicly.
“Chapin Hall is good, they know a lot about what other states have done [to improve their child welfare systems],” says Beth Rosenberg, director of child welfare and juvenile justice for the Children’s Action Alliance. She says she and others in her office don’t know specific details about what the report will contain, but that they “were expecting some really good help and direction” to come from it until they heard from “Legislative and DCS folks [that] it was more of an overview of the past, and a look at the future [from a global perspective.]”
What DCS needs are specific, detailed prescriptions, not a macro overview of its challenges, she adds.
At the last Legislative Child Safety Oversight committee meeting on May 28, DCS Director Greg McKay told committee members that the Chapin Hall audit will “tell the story of how we got to where we are today.”
But according to the 2014 law, the audit should “focus on implementation challenges,” some of which include:
1. Developing a strategic direction that ensures child safety and establishes protocols for services after an investigation.
2. Creating accountability mechanisms, including the capacity to produce accurate data on performance and outcome measures, use of the data for performance management, processes for continuous quality review, mechanisms for qualitative review of system functioning and outcomes for children, youth and families.
3. Strategies for community engagement, including engagement with families, youth and service providers.
At one point during the oversight committee meeting, McKay’s PowerPoint presentation about his first 100 days as director included a slide that said, “at what point do multiple attempts to analyze a system’s failures paralyze that system from moving forward?”
“We’re feeling that a little,” he told the group. “I just ask for everyone’s patience because each day, our very constrained workforce is trying to respond to requests from all of these places [and] these types of things set us off course and slow the process down.”
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Interestingly, no one commented on the slide, but McKay was clearly not let off the hook so easily—throughout the session he came under fire repeatedly for failing for provide measurable data-driven outcomes.
Whether the content of today’s audit report will address prescriptive strategies for getting to these outcomes remains to be seen—and we’ll keep you posted when it’s published—but it’s probably safe to say that everyone hopes it does.