Solving Problems: DCS committee hearing

Hello. Hello everybody. I just wanted to give you a quick update, some post thoughts after the DCS committee hearing meeting today and just kind of give you a rundown as to what happened and what my thoughts are on it.

On the agenda today, I got there a little bit late after about 20 to 30 minutes because I was helping at work with some things. When I got there basically the agenda was talking about the ombudsman’s office and how the ombudsman’s office operates. That’s an area that I hear a lot of complaints about that people feel like they’re not getting the help they need from the ombudsman’s office. The thing that was interesting about it is that my perception of listening to the presentation from them is that they are serving multiple roles that probably don’t make sense to have in the same department.

One, they’re serving a role of when parents have complaints about the way that the social workers behaving or whatnot. They go to the ombudsman’s office. When parents need to learn how the court process works and how the DCS process works and the services works, they go to the ombudsman’s office. When parents haven’t been getting calls from their social workers and whatnot, they go to the ombudsman’s office. When parents see that the foster care employee they feel like isn’t treating their children properly, they go to the ombudsman’s office. In my opinion, we’re doing too many things in the same department and that’s why it’s failing. That’s why it’s not working.

The committee today asked a lot of good questions and I haven’t been to a committee. I missed the last couple of them, but the first one that I went to, they weren’t asking questions, they were just listening.

They didn’t really completely understand what their role was, so I was very happy to see that that’s changed and that they’re asking good questions. So that’s an improvement and we should applaud progress. The next thing that I noticed is that they’ve gotten a little bit better at using Robert’s rules of order, but they really need to get to understand that a little bit better than what’s happening today. They were very receptive. I did a short speech because it’s October and it’s domestic violence awareness month in Arizona. I did a short speech about my experience and helping victims of domestic violence. And unfortunately, in my opinion, Arizona is really doing a bad job of that. This is something that’s been substantiated in the reporting by the Arizona Republic and other media outlets. It’s something that anecdotally I can speak to the fact that oftentimes when women are going to seek shelter at domestic violence shelters, they are getting DCS called on them and then they are losing their children. It is a terribly harmful process that we have in place today.

I was happy to see that they took that seriously and that they actually put it on a future agenda. I believe in the December meeting it will be discussed. So I’m very happy about that. But more so than that, afterwards I had some really good discussions with them about what’s happening in the process and what I’m seeing. I come from a different perspective because, again, for my day job I work for Councilman DiCiccio, and I work as the director of constituent services. I get to see the way government operates at the local level. And that’s helping me to have better insights to see how things become dysfunctional when it comes to the state level, when it comes to the legislature when it comes to the way DCS operates in policy and even our court system.

I appreciate that I’m able to get this experience and kind of see behind the scenes how things work a little bit and find some opportunities for improvement. I talked to someone that has over 30 years experience with being a child advocate of working as a social worker, being a DCS caseworker, and I had a very good conversation. I just wanted to share some of the findings from that with you because I think you’ll appreciate it. What I spoke about in the two-minute speech that I gave was about the fact that in October 2019 the funding model for DCS is going to change significantly. It’s going to change in a way that Arizona hasn’t had in a very long time. In the old CPS model, we did have a little bit of what’s called preventative services.

We had a true social worker model where a social worker would go in and their job was actually not to take kids away from parents. Their job was to serve as a preventative means to help give the family the services that they needed to just become better parents, have their kids be better, and it really was for families that are underprivileged, families that don’t have the financial resources of other families where they might need counseling for their child. They might need some special activities that are educational for their child. They might need conflict resolution skills for themselves as a parent. There’s a great program called Love and Logic in Arizona that does that. These are all things that are called preventative services. The Arizona DCS model has none of that. They have zero preventative services and their funding really is designed to go in and take kids first because there is no option to not take the children.

As a social worker, you know that either you’re taking the children or you’re not. If you’re not taking the children, you can recommend services, but there’s no case plan. There’s nothing that happens. There’s no process that happens to support keeping the family together. Either you say, yeah, this accusation is unsubstantiated or the accusation is substantiated and you go into the DCS process. Well, the DCS process really is more designed, in my opinion, for real legitimate cases of abuse and criminal neglect. Well, we don’t have a definition of criminal neglect. We have a definition of neglect and it’s very ambiguous and it’s really very subjective up to how the DCS caseworker considers neglect. So that’s an area that we talked about that needs to be improved. I was happy because we both agreed with that. We both agreed that legislatively we don’t have a sufficient definition for neglect and that’s what’s causing issues.

The other thing is that in the DCS process, we have people that are working as individuals versus a team, and I personally think DCS should work as a team. However, I think that the entity that does preventative services should have absolutely nothing to do with DCS. I see that when it comes to trying to solve problems at the local level. Right now we try to solve homelessness with having the police go and meet the homeless people, meet with our homeless community. That’s an adversarial relationship right off the bat. The homeless person isn’t being really engaged to want to go and get help or change their life or anything like that. They’re doing it under duress and so duress is not a motivating factor. Whereas if we had a system of social services at the local level, then we could have a better system in place that would then be able to help these people get what they need without having to be under duress.

Same thing with family system. By all means, I’m not advocating for more government. I’m just saying logically that’s the way logically it would be different that way. Same thing with DCS. DCS is not an organization that is equipped to help make a family stronger. That doesn’t exist in Arizona quite frankly when it comes to government. Now there’s arguments as to whether that’s government’s role or not, but in October 2019 that’s where the funding will be primarily going to now is preventative services versus today’s DCS model. We were able to get agreement on that from this person that works on the DCS side that we do need to have a true social worker model. We didn’t totally agree on whether it should be in DCS or not. What he did, at least admit to is the fact that DCS doesn’t do that today, and I said, well, I don’t think they should.

That shouldn’t be what DCS does. That’s not their role. DCS should be reserved for actual children that are actually being abused. Children that are actually being criminally neglected. That’s not what DCS is doing today. DCS is largely dealing with neglect cases that are preventative cases that families just need to get a little bit of extra help. We’re putting it all through the same process and it’s not successful. I talked about the fact that we should be looking at domestic violence situations differently and treating them differently. We shouldn’t be going and just separating the adult abuse victim from the children that are also victims of abuse. We should keep that entity together and find a safe place for all of them to be together because what you’re doing right now is you’re putting women and men that are victims of abuse and you’re putting them in a situation where now they can be greater victimized from the abuser because they’ve been separated from their children, and that’s a horrible thing. That hit home with the DCS committee and I was happy to hear that.

So to make a long story short, in summary, the areas that I’m going to be looking into further is that we need to take the money that’s coming in October 2019 and use it for true preventative services. I don’t think that those preventative services should be handled at the DCS level or at the state level at all. I think it should either happen at the county level or the city level. I prefer the city level because that’s where Head Start exists already, and I see it as an extension of that and that’s a proper place for it to go compared to DCS. Now, there might be some other opportunities of where it could go, but in my opinion, that’s where it should be.

Next thing. We need to more carefully define neglect. Neglect can not be this nebulous term that’s at the whim of a social worker to make that decision… a DCS caseworker to make that decision on. DCS caseworkers should not have so much power that they can at a whim be able to define neglect on their own. That should be something that’s determined by a statute and policy. Period. And then it should also be backed up by our court system.

The third thing that we didn’t agree on is that our court system today does not follow due process. When I was talking to an officer that’s on the board, he was saying, well, it’s not supposed to have due process cause due process only applies criminally. Well, I’m sorry. But if the result is that your children are going to be taken from you forever, then it absolutely must have due process because you’re taking something that’s much worse of a penalty than actually going to jail or being fined or paying restitution. Taking your children is a much more hard circumstance.

The reason why we have due process that exists criminally is because you don’t want to have government to be able to take advantage of people and throw them in jail or fine them for the benefit of government. Same thing should apply to DCS. Then the third thing that we did agree on was that the process today of taking children is absolutely traumatic for children. I was happy to hear that from them. I was happy to hear that they know and understand that it’s traumatic. They said that they’re working towards it but at the speed of government, which is snail slow. Sometimes you’re making worse progress than that. Overall, I do think that we’re making progress. We’re not making progress fast enough. Families are being destroyed, kids are being destroyed and it’s not acceptable.

What I do like to see is that more people in the community are stepping up and saying, I want to help with this. I want to help solve problems. I am hoping to see that DCS starts changing their attitude where they’re more coming to the table saying, Hey, we know these problems exist and we want to solve the problems too. That’s not the feeling I get from them right now and I’d like to see that change. I’m going to go through now and see… Let me put that up there. Actually, let me put it in my car. I’m going to go through now and just see if there’s any questions you guys asked. So if you have questions let me know right now because I need to get back to the city. We have a domestic violence march that I want to participate in.

Mike says, do they recommend services that don’t really exist? No. What they’re saying is that we need to have these services. They don’t exist and that’s part of the problem. That’s why they’re so quick to take children because they don’t have the services exist. They get penalized if they leave children in an abusive situation and they didn’t realize it. They don’t get penalized if they just are quick to take the kids. But they don’t have anything in between. They need to have something in between. It’s ridiculous that they don’t.

Scotty, the new law does not take effect until October 1st, 2019. The funding October 2018 is when we’re supposed to be getting the rules and what the process is from the federal government, which we haven’t gotten yet. October 2019 is when the new funding comes in place. That’s when everything changes. There’s a lot of work that’s going to have to be done very, very quickly and it’s going to be very difficult. I don’t see DCS being able to do this. I think that preventative services is going to need to be under a different area, preferably the city level because we already have Head Start there.

Let’s see what’s next. Thanks Mark. I appreciate the support. Any other questions? Carrie said, I agree completely. We can do better. That was something that was a positive outcome. We were able to agree on the fact that today the system from what all the studies show is that when this system takes these kids, terminates the rights and puts them through foster care, they have a worse outcome than if those kids were left with abusive parents, and that’s wrong. We should not be taking money from the taxpayers and putting kids through a system that makes their life suck more than living in abuse. That’s completely unacceptable. To say, well, it takes a long time, blah, blah, blah, to me that’s unacceptable too. You need to change it. We need to change it fast. I understand that it’s hard for that to happen, but that’s where we’re at. All right. I don’t see any more questions on there.

Feel free to contact me directly if you do have questions. I do want to give a shout out to Lori Ford and Melinda Sherwin and the DCS oversight committee and David Jose, all the work that these advocates have been doing. We have some folks that are in the foster care community that are on the DCS oversight committee. This is a group of grassroots citizens that have worked diligently. They’re the ones that got these meetings to happen again. Lori Ford has been absolutely instrumental. She is amazing in keeping us organized, keeping us up to date. If she didn’t put out the information that she did, it would be very difficult for me to do what I do from a legislative perspective and the work I do now with Councilman DiCiccio. So I want to thank you all for that and just keep at it.

I guess I’ll close with one thing. You know, I’ve seen a lot of videos of people in the family rights community attacking each other, and sometimes it’s warranted. There’s been some things that people have done to each other that’s not nice, but what I’d like to say is just a call for civility across the board. There’s been some nasty accusations that are absolutely false made against me. There’s been some nasty accusations made against David Jose, nasty accusations made about some other people that were volunteers in my campaign in the past. Then some of those people have been making nasty accusations about other people too. And I don’t know what’s true. I don’t know what’s false except when it comes to the accusations against me personally. I do think that we have good faith as a movement to do the right thing, but I would call for stability. Go and talk to someone one on one if there’s an issue if you have with them personally. Don’t just blast it on social media.

Two, if you feel like you went to them personally and you couldn’t get it taken care of, then maybe we should look at having kind of like a buddy system or a community system where we say, okay, we’ll have a couple of people that are good at working through these issues kind of like an arbitration, like a voluntary arbitration where we can get the folks that are in disagreement to the table and try to work it out confidentially so that the movement isn’t destroyed by this.

And then the third thing is if we do find that there has been gross misconduct, maybe we have some sort of voluntary board that we create to determine that and we sort of self-govern ourselves. But what’s happening today, it’s not productive for the movement. And I think we absolutely need to call out bad people doing bad things. But let’s also remember that in the spirit of due process, although due process doesn’t technically apply, we should give each other the benefit of the doubt and try to find better ways of handling our challenges and our disagreements.

So with that, it’s Friday. It’s the Sabbath, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Peace, love Liberty. By now.

 

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