Arizona Budget Committee Gives Child Safety Report Unfavorable Review
The Department of Child Safety was unable to say Tuesday how many children from backlogged cases are in imminent danger. The agency had 14,899 backlogged cases of child abuse and neglect as of November 28.
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee gave an unfavorable review of the Department of Child Safety’s quarterly report. According to lawmakers and staff members, that’s rare. The agency’s director, Greg McKay, wasn’t at the meeting. DCS spokesman Doug Nick said he was at a meeting within the agency.
His deputy director of operations, Michael Dellner, fielded most of the committee’s questions, to which he answered repeatedly, “We can provide that information. Unfortunately, I don’t have that data with me today.”
The budget committee asked whether enough investigations had been completed to determine if there are imminent risks to children. Dellner gave the same response, which Senator Steve Farley wasn’t satisfied with.
“You can understand how disturbing that is to me and this entire committee that we don’t have information as to whether or not these kids are in imminent danger," Farley said. "That’s nearly 15,000 cases.”
The agency received more than $16 million this fiscal year to eliminate the backlog. The number of those cases has since grown. The benchmark report detailing backlogged cases of child abuse and neglect and staffing levels is more than two months late. These quarterly reports require DCS to update the committee on how it is using money to hire caseworkers and eliminate case backlogs.
The agency has increased hiring - there are now 930 active caseworkers. However, that's fewer than when the agency was restructured last May.
Representative Stefanie Mach said she is losing confidence in the agency’s current leadership.
“Trust is engendered when you have information. We are not getting the right information," she said. "I would love to be able to believe that he (director Greg McKay) is doing everything he can. But because I don’t have that information, and he won’t give it to me, I don’t have the confidence.”
The governor said in a statement Tuesday, that he maintains faith in the agency and director McKay to make positive reforms at DCS. According to Children's Action Alliance, an advocacy organization, DCS asked for a $105-million increase for its 2017 budget. Its budget is currently $849 million. That request includes state and federal money.