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Arizona DCS Director's Qualifications Targeted By Lawmakers

A group of Arizona lawmakers is using a new bill to take aim at the educational and leadership qualifications of Greg McKay, director of the Department of Child Safety.

House Bill 2662 spells out new minimum requirements for the position — none of which McKay satisfies — that will limit who the governor can appoint in the future.

Under current law, a DCS director must have both “administrative experience in the protection of children from maltreatment and in family support services,” and “qualifications and training that enable the director to manage the affairs of the department.”

But if passed, HB 2662 would require the director meet three requirements:

  • A master’s or doctoral degree in social work, public health, human services, public administration or policy, law, clinical psychology, or a related field;
  • At least 12 years of experience in the provision and supervision of child welfare, public health, or social services programs;
  • At least two years of demonstrated successful experience in the management of a large health or human services system in either the governmental or nonprofit sector or a related sector, and evidence of collaboration and effective partnerships with the community.

The primary sponsor of the bill, Representative Rebecca Rios, says the idea for the bill came from the National Association of Social Workers, which approached her with the model legislation. She agreed to take it on because the "DCS is in a state of disarray, and [it's] clearly not responding to the welfare needs of children in the state. [It's] failing miserably despite additional resources, and that responsibility comes from the top down."

Representative Debbie McCune-Davis, who sits on the Legislative Child Safety Oversight Committee and is a co-sponsor of the bill, said she signed on to the measure for a simple reason: She believes “that the person heading our child welfare agency needs a background in child welfare and/or a related field and some related experience.”

McKay, she explained, “doesn’t fit the profile."

Like some of Governor Doug Ducey's other political appointees, McKay has come under tremendous criticism in the past year for what many say are his lack of qualifications and leadership skills.

Before his appointment, McKay headed up the DCS Office of Child Welfare Investigations — the arm of the agency that looks into criminal conduct — as an on-loan employee from the Phoenix Police Department, but he was never in charge of managing a huge bureaucracy.

While some of his critics also have taken issue with his focus on investigating criminal conduct, others point out that he’s probably not even eligible to serve as a low-level caseworker for DCS, let alone run the agency — case workers are required to have bachelor's degrees, and according to records obtained by New Times, it does not appear he holds an associate's or bachelor's degree, though he lists on his resume that he attended Pennsylvania State University.

Of course, a college degree doesn’t necessarily make or break a great DCS director, but as New Times has written before, McKay’s critics feel the management and leadership skills he’s demonstrated over the past year do not demonstrate that he's qualified, much less great. 

McCune-Davis, like many others, feels the agency focuses too much on removing children from homes and doesn’t pay enough attention to preventative care or the overall well-being of the children and families it serves. “Frankly, he doesn’t talk much about child well being,” she said.

Though HB 2662 does not name McKay specifically — or give any indication that if passed, the law would work retroactively — it’s clearly a hit at his credibility. 

Having watched him lead the agency for the past year, McCune-Davis told New Times, all of those signing the bill “believe the agency would do better with someone with credentials aligned with child welfare.”

"The fact is, we have someone at the helm of DCS who doesn’t doesn’t posses a well-rounded background," Rios said. "If the agency was running smoothly, I don't think this would be an issue, but [it's] not . . . and [it's] answers seem to be bringing legislation that changes the definition of 'backlog cases' or that doesn't require [it] to investigate all calls into the hotline."

The DCS declined to comment on the bill, instead deferring to the Governor’s Office, which had some candid remarks for the bill’s sponsors — Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato called the bill nothing more than “a political stunt” and said the Governor’s Office will not be taking it seriously.

“It hasn’t even been assigned to a committee, let alone passed through the chambers, and our focus is on real meaningful reform to keep the kids of Arizona safe,” he added. “The governor inherited a very broken system that needs a lot of work, but we’re focused on serious things, not some stunt to get publicity.”

When asked, Scarpinato maintained that Governor Ducey is confident in McKay’s ability to lead DCS and believes he is doing a great job.

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Neither Rios nor McCune-Davis are optimistic that the bill will get a hearing, let alone pass both chambers of Congress and be approved by the government, but that's not stopping them.

"Often times, Democrats [in the Arizona Legislature] introduce bills in order to bring something into conversation," McCune-Davis said, "and I believe it’s a sincere effort on my colleagues' part and my part to make a point that the director of this agency needs to know and understand kids." 

Read the full text of the bill:

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