Not even Mother Teresa could fix DCS

December 17, 2015

Do you believe in miracles?

Director of the Department of Child Safety Greg McKay made a rather impolite manuever.  He was a no-show at a legislative hearing on DCS.  Now some legislators want his head or so it seems.  After all, the legislature increased appropriations to DCS to hire more case workers and improve the functioning of what’s been a very dysfunctional agency, and so far they don’t see results.

But why are they surprised?

Mother Teresa has an iconic image of caring for the poor, though her focus was giving them death with dignity.  While on the road to sainthood, she had to have a miracle and with its current resources that’s what it would take to fix DCS.Mother Teresa in Calcutta

The starting salary for a DCS case worker is either $33,000 or $37,000 a year and their case load is nearly twice what it should be based on national standards.  Did I mention the job is extremely stressful and challenging, too.  So would anyone be shocked to hear that turnover in the agency is about one-third annually. Consequently, they can’t meet hiring goals because people are quitting nearly as fast as they are hired.  So caseloads stay high; the to be investigated pile stays high.

The consequences for the children, already traumatized and broken by their life experiences, is a merry go-round-that’s not too merry, of constantly changing and inexperienced case workers.  Because the only people taking these jobs lack experience–and then as soon as they find something better or burn out–they’re gone.  And the children lose yet another adult in their life, no stability, no trust.

Director McKay may or may not be the best person for the job, but unless Arizona is willing to pay their caseworkers an attractive wage the crisis at DCS will continue.  Of course, if you pay a starting wage of $45,000 (and adjust everyone else appropriately), you’ll start retaining employees, be able to work on the backlogs, reduce case loads, and give more stability for kids. The only problem is that would require substantial state investment.  Sure it should have clear accountability benchmarks–but unless you make the investment, the suffering will continue.

Mother Teresa would be disappointed we care so little for those who are in such a vulnerable situation.

–Dave Wells, GCI Research Director