Citizen oversight panel disbanded by Arizona Department of Child Safety

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The  Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) has ended a citizen-led panel designed to give the agency an outside perspective, a move many critics believe will only further insulate the organization.

Greg McKay, director of DCS says that the agency still has nearly 30 other panels and committees for oversight – 20 of which are external – and members of the now-disbanded oversight panel are encouraged to submit their input through the other available outlets.

Ted Simons: Coming up on Arizona Horizon, a discussion with the head of the Department of Child Safety about why they are doing away citizen review panels.

Ted Simons: The Arizona Department of Child Safety, or DCS, is doing away with a citizens-review panel that oversees the department's work. DCS will instead handle the review process in-house. Critics worry that the move will insulate the agency from oversight. Joining us now is the man who made the decision, DCS director Greg Mckay. Good to see you again. Thanks for being here.

Greg Mckay: Great to see you, Ted.

Ted Simons: You’ve decided to disband these citizen review panels. Why?

Greg Mckay: It wasn't a decision to disband but them but a decision to not re-up a contract with ASU to facilitate that particular program which is about $150,000 we pay to ASU for their one staffer to facilitate that panel and annual report. So more importantly is that we have 28 other oversight entities that are involved in DCF but the federal, to local to the citizens to internal and of those 28 entities 20 of them are external. So, you know, the idea that we have decided to close transparency and take everything in house and reinstall this bunker mentality that may have existed years ago is not genuine. The article in the op-ed was just not genuine.

Ted Simons: Why make the move?

Greg Mckay: Every year every contract comes up for negotiation and the bottom line is since this isn't a state mandate the state has imposed many statutory mandates of a citizen community advisory board we are statutorily required to take place in that has the same construct has this and the l legislative oversight committees and the 28 other bodies.

Ted Simons: These are required by Congress, are they not?

Greg Mckay: Some of these things come out of something called the child abuse prevention and treatment act way back in the early '90s. However, these are requirements of certainly federal funding not of the state. What we are trying to do is if we have multiple panels doing the same type of work without a lot of construct that could be facilitated to move the department forward in a more meaningful way that is what we want to do. If that means enlist the same people that did this that is what we will do. But what we are trying to say is citizens are antonymous whether it is citizens we setup the meetings through an internal staff person or ASU sets up those meetings it really is immaterial. Citizen's viewpoint are their own.

Ted Simons: and there are those that say if you move this in-house and take on this responsibility, it does take away some transparency. There could be other panels but in this particular incidence, if you move it in-house that is not necessarily a healthy thing. How do you respond?

Greg Mckay: I totally disagree. Every panel we have, again, we have 28 bodies out there. Most of them made-up of citizens and almost all of them issue reports, annual reports or quarterly reports and in all those reports are their findings from their work whether that is recommendations or opportunities of improvement or issues within the child welfare practice that we need to consider changing. You know? Those are all public documents and everybody can go read them. There are so many of them out there. Having someone on our staff, just to give you an example, our community advisory panel, we have a youth panel, we have a biological parent panel, we have foster care review boards, we have auditor general, we have the fed's. 28 oversights on this department. So for the public to hear a story that I disbanded something that was transparent that allowed oversight to this agency without telling them the rest of the story which is there are 28 other endeavors ongoing to oversee the department is not fair.

Ted Simons: of the other departments and other endeavors as you call them how much information do you get from them and how seriously do you take it? Again, the reports are from these panels, these folks that are being disbanded, folded into however you want to term it, they are saying it was difficult to get your attention, you had limited time to talk to them and it sounded like the agencies didn't take their recommendation and opinions seriously.

Greg Mckay: Right. And that is always the battle with an agencies with such volume and constraints. Just to give you an idea, in August, our phone range at the child abuse hotline 13,400 times. 450 calls per day involving child abuse or child neglect. Everything we do to manage external or internal oversight or advisory does detract from other work. You know for the prior 10 years capacity didn't meet volume and we had all these bad things happen which I would like to talk about. When we met last, backlogs of investigation, 16,000 backlog cases and that number is under 300 now. Arizona was ranked the worst state in the United States of America for foster care growth with a 10-year growth pattern of 92% kids in foster care. We were just ranked number 1 in the nation for foster care reduction. That is great, great news. You are not hearing about those things.

Ted Simons: as par as the panels were concern, was DCF as cooperative as they could have been in dealing with these folks? They are expressing frustration. Do you see their points?

Greg Mckay: Absolutely. The bottom line is people bring knowledge, experience, good will, and care into these engagements hoping they can effect change and what they are faced with is an agency that has many priorities and constraints on how many resources they can dedicate to those things. As you heard me say about the auditor general's report, if somebody gives me 100, 200, 300 recommendations that the department cannot manage to implement all of those people feel their work was not meaningful. Anything we hear regarding necessary oversight or practice shifts or policy changes we take very seriously. Whether we can implement that or not based on the demands of the work we do every day is up to consideration sometimes.

Ted Simons: another claim was that DCF refused to share files. Is that legit?

Greg Mckay: We are totally open to sharing case files, but if a panel is giving a mission of finding out A and delivering advice on that particular topic, we don't want scope creep and want them to hear stories and ask for reports because every time you ask for a report somebody has to get you that information. And every question you have about that report has to go person or a group of people to provide more and more information. We want people to remain focused. I will give you an example of some of the oversights. Recently we had a community advisory meeting, a quarterly meeting, and the citizens that are paneled to do this work with us are fearful to even come anymore to these engagements with us. We have to have to police to help people feel safe at these things. The funny thing is just the other day at this thing the committee is there to talk about practice and things to help Arizona move forward and groups of agitators show up at the public meetings. This is a handcrafted arrest warrant for me served on one of my staff members were pre-mediated murder. A lot of the panel members feel what they are working on is being distracted and degraded on by some of the hype surrounding DCF. There are limits of what we can. And 28 oversight bodies, again.

Ted Simons: and this makes DCF a better agency; disbanding these panels?

Greg Mckay: Again, I don't know if we are disbanding these panels. We have grown the mount of panels and if we decide to make this part of the inside we will do that.

Greg McKay: Director, Department of Child Safety

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