Governor Doug Ducey Fires Head of Child Safety Department

A week after two Arizona agencies were implicated in a federal class-action lawsuit because of the state's "dangerous, severely deficient foster care system," Governor Doug Ducey's office finally made a move.

On Tuesday afternoon, Ducey announced that he was firing Charles Flanagan, head of the Department of Child Safety, and replacing him with Greg McKay, chief of Arizona's Office of Child Welfare Investigations.

A representative from Ducey's office told New Times "the governor believes that this new leadership team will be able to lead the department toward the changes it needs." He added that Flanagan wasn't specifically fired because of last week's events but that the lawsuit did serve as "another indication that improvements are still needed in the agency."

See also: Arizona Departments of Child Safety and Health Sued Over Foster Care System

McKay, once a foster parent, has an extensive record in law enforcement and child protection. He will be aided by Vicki Mayo, who has a strong child-advocacy background, and will serve as Deputy Director of DCS.

Kris Jacober, president of the nonprofit group Arizona Association of Foster & Adoptive Parents, is optimistic about the change. "I know Greg and Vicki, and I anticipate that the passion they have for kids [will be used] to make some significant changes to the DCS and the system," she says. It's perhaps too early to say she's "confident" that the system will improve, but she's certainly "comfortable" with the new leadership.

Often when the leaders of bureaucratic agencies are fired, the move is seen as symbolic. But Jacober doesn't think this is the case with the DCS. The agency desperately needs -- and has needed for a long time, she adds -- new leaders.

Even though the DCS became its own agency last year, foster-care children and advocates at the grassroots level like Jacober say they didn't see much improvement. "It was just a change at the top, it didn't trickle down to the people I worked with day to day. I hope this change at the top will impact the day to day [lives] of the kids that come in [to the foster care system.]"

Ducey, for one, has stated his commitment to reforming the system, and Jacober says she's hopeful. "Although again," she tells New Times with a laugh, "it's been an hour [since McKay's appointment] so I don't know how that will translate into policy."

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser