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A Look at the Department of Child Safety’s Budget Request for the Upcoming Year

The Department of Child Safety (DCS) recently submitted its funding request for fiscal year 2017, asking for a 21% increase of $105.9 million in appropriated funds (including the state general fund, federal TANF block grant and federal child care funds).  DCS requests that $65.5 million of this increase begins during the current fiscal year with a supplemental appropriation to address system deficits.

In February when Governor Ducey appointed Greg McKay as Director of the Department, he declared a new day for child safety. Yet, we are still waiting for DCS to make a difference in children’s lives: the agency can’t manage its workload, staff turnover is alarmingly high, too many children are being taken into foster care rather than staying with their families and getting in-home services, and there is far too much time and trauma before children are connected with safe and permanent homes.

The budget Governor Ducey signed for the current year in no way reflects the demands on the agency.  Now it is up to the Governor and DCS leadership to make the case that they can target the dollars requested effectively to turn the trends around and get the crisis under control.

The top priority must be to safely reduce the skyrocketing growth in foster care which is overwhelming our system and unnecessarily traumatizing children.  While foster care is clearly needed in some cases, research and experience around the country show that many children can be safe and have better long-term success if they remain with their families and have the support of in-home services.

The budget request forecasts DCS will have 18,700 children in the foster care system next year — only slightly more than the current number.  But it is unclear how DCS will actually reduce the growth in foster care. The legislature has tried to move in this direction over the past three years with more than $12 million in new funding added specifically for in-home services.  Last fiscal year, however, DCS spent less than half of its in-home services funding and transferred the rest to foster care. When auditors surveyed 1,000 DCS staff members — from top management to investigators — most noted that in-home services were unavailable for them to use. As recently as last week, DCS Director McKay testified before the legislature about the many barriers preventing the agency from increasing the use of in-home services.

Now is the time for Governor Ducey to work with legislative and community leaders, child welfare experts and the private agencies throughout the state that provide services to families. Legislators and citizens across the state need to know how his administration will confront these barriers and clear the path to increased up-front services.

Attached is a summary of the funding increases in the general fund budget request – and one decrease – submitted by DCS for next fiscal year, which begins in July.

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