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An adult holding hands with two children
July 26, 2022
July 26, 2022

A drastic decrease in the number of children in foster care


The rate of children in foster care in Arizona is the lowest it’s been in a decade, and critical services such as hold times for the child abuse hotline (1-888-SOS-CHILD) have also been improved thanks to the committment of the Arizona Department of Child Safety, partner agencies, foster parents and community groups to improving the well-being of children. 

The Department of Child Safety became a standalone agency in 2014 and under the leadership of former Director Greg McKay began a transformation using Lean management principles under the Arizona Management System to tackle the complex and critical task of supporting vulnerable children and families. 

In the years before the agency was formed, the number of children going into foster care had grown 92% from 2005 to 2015. Investigators’ caseloads were overwhelming, and there was a backlog of reports of abuse and neglect that hadn’t been investigated. 

McKay emphasized Standard Work and Visual Management to add efficiency and processes that allowed for smoother management of crises and better morale among staff, emphasizing system failures instead of scapegoating people when things went wrong.

“This transformation has been nothing short of extraordinary,” said Gov. Doug Ducey, who launched the Arizona Management System to make the work of state government more effective. “Over the past eight years, Arizona went from near the bottom in child welfare to the top. I commend Director Mike Faust and all of the DCS employees, foster parents, community groups and partner agencies who worked, and continue to work, tirelessly to support Arizona’s most vulnerable children and families.”

McKay was succeeded in 2019 by Faust, whose own experience with childhood neglect and expertise in Lean management inspire him up to continue to move DCS service forward. Faust joined the Arizona Government Transformation Office in 2015 after starting his career in aerospace manufacturing. He worked with DCS and other agencies as a Lean consultant before joining DCS as the deputy director and helping usher in the continuous improvement practices that improved so much about the agency’s services, especially the safe reduction of the number of children in out-of-home care.

“Although this was one of the goals from the start, little did the team know how challenging it would be to reach this milestone,” said Faust. “DCS was deeply challenged a decade ago, and had it not been for the commitment of all those involved to make DCS a standalone agency, the resolve and steadfastness of Director Greg McKay from 2015-2019, the commitment of the thousands of employees and partners who devote their lives to protecting children, the loving support of kinship families, and the dedication of biological families to reunifying with their children, this would not have been possible.”

A focus on continuous improvement also led to these successes at the Arizona Department of Child Safety:

  • Eliminating a backlog of 16,000 inactive cases
  • Reducing the number of open reports to investigate from 33,245 to sustainment under 10,000
  • Revising the safety assessment model and training all employees to make sure practices were standardized across the state
  • Implementing a process that requires a judge to weigh in before removing a child from home, except in emergencies
  • Replacing an old data management system and launching a mobile app to make paperwork and information sharing easier
  • Increasing the number of young adults participating in the extended foster care program — which offers career guidance, a living stipend and other tools to support foster youth through age 21 — from 700 to 1,200 
  • Integrating behavioral and physical health care for foster youth in Arizona

While DCS is celebrating their success, Faust emphasizes that there’s always room for improvement, especially when the mission is as complex as child and family safety.

“For all the positives, the work is never complete. The department remains committed to working alongside community leaders to prevent children from needing protection and partnering together to best serve children and their families when intervention is necessary,” said Faust.