Friday, March 3, 2023

UPDATE:Arizona group home industry tries to take advantage of ouster of the first Black director of the state’s “child welfare” agency.

Hobbs doesn’t go as far as they want, but, for an agency in desperate need of radical change, she chooses someone who promises NOT to do “anything radical.”

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

The recap:

 In a previous post to this blog, I wrote about a huge cave-in by Arizona’s Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.  She apparently surrenderedto pressure from an extremist Republican legislator, State Sen. Jake Hoffman, and fired Matthew Stewart.  Stewart was, very briefly, the first Black director of the state family police agency, the Department of Child Safety.  Stewart fired him less than two months after appointing him. 

Stewart had not been confirmed, and Hoffman chairs the committee that would have held the confirmation hearing. 

I wrote about how this was not only a political failure but also a media failure. Arizona media cut-and-pasted Hoffman’s false allegations against Stewart, with no context for either what was alleged or who was alleging it.  The allegations came from a legislator so extreme he was banned from some social media spaces for running a “troll factory.”  Oh, and he’s an election denier – he refuses to even acknowledge that Hobbs is really the governor!  I only know this because ProPublica published a story with the context Arizona media left out.

 Here's what’s new, part one:

 While still failing to provide this context, the Arizona Republic did advance the story a little on Thursday.  They published a story raising questions about whether Stewart was the victim of a campaign by the state’s group home industry.

 The Republic reports that three days after Hobbs fired Stewart, she received a letter from “numerous group home operators” urging her to reinstate Mike Faust, who ran DCS under former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. Hoffman promptly echoed that call, citing the group home industry letter.

 It’s no wonder they’re so fond of Faust.  Congregate care – group homes and institutions -- is, by far, the worst option for children.  Among all forms of foster care group homes and institutions have the worst record for abusing children in their“care.”  As the Republic story points out: “Under [Faust’s] watch, there were safety issues at several group homes, including last fall, when a foster youth was fatally shot.”  I wrote about another example of Arizona group home failure just last month.

 But even when residents are not physically or sexually abused, group home and institutional care is so inherently harmful that pressure has been growing across the country to get rid of them.  But Arizona lags way behind. The state institutionalizes children at a rate 50% above the national average.  So clearly, the Arizona group home industry had a lot to lose when Hobbs named Stewart, a reformer dedicated to doing more to keep families together, to run DCS.

 The letter from the group home industry came three days after Stewart was fired, so we don’t know if they were urging Hoffman to attack Stewart all along, or if they just saw their opportunity and they took it.

 Responding to Hoffman’s call to bring back Faust, a spokesman for Gov. Hobbs declared that "We won't be taking direction from Hoffman.”  That would be a lot more convincing if they had never thrown Matthew Stewart under the bus in the first place.

Here's what’s new, part two:

While Hobbs did not go as far as the group home industry wanted, she has now made a choice to head the agency that almost guarantees no real change.  Indeed, her choice to run DCS has already promised as much.

Hobbs chose David Lujan, the current head of a group that did an enormous amount to create the current crisis in Arizona child welfare – the so-called “Children’s Action Alliance.”   Even though Arizona tears apart families at a rate 75% above the national average and has one of the nation’s worst records for racial bias, Lujan told the Arizona Republic he plans to assure lawmakers that “I'm not looking to do anything radical at this agency.”

That’s not surprising.

To understand just how much harm the Children’s Action Alliance has done, we need to go back a long way, to another failure by an Arizona governor.  As I explained in what turned out to be a way-too-optimistic op-ed column for the Arizona Republic:  It was January 2003.  High-profile child abuse deaths in cases “known-to-the-system” were front-page news and the new governor, Janet Napolitano, had fallen for the Big Lie of American child welfare: that child removal equals child safety. So within days of taking office, she was greeted with wild applause when she told a child welfare conference, “Err on the side of protecting the child, and we’ll sort it out later.”

Speaker after speaker echoed her call.  They set off a foster-care panic, a sharp sudden increase in children torn from their homes.  But Arizona still hasn’t sorted it out.  The panic has never stopped.

I bring this up now because the 2003 conference in question was organized by the Children’s Action Alliance.  Like many such groups, they do good work on issues like education, health care, etc.  But when it comes to “child welfare,” they have long been the leading voice for a take-the-child-and-run approach.

In Arizona, year after year, CAA threw gasoline on the fires of foster-care panic.  Do a search for “Children’s Action Alliance” in our 2007 report on Arizona child welfare, and you’ll find one inflammatory quote after another.

CAA has never apologized, never taken responsibility for the chaos it helped to unleash and the families it helped to destroy.  Instead, it is one more group engaging in reputation laundering.  So their current child welfare agenda uses what has become the standard buzz phrase that once had real meaning but now has been co-opted to the point that it tells you when a group doesn’t really want to change anything: “child and family well-being system.”  That means: go through the performance art of pretending to consult communities, add on a few more “preventive services” – but call for nothing that would actually curb the power of the family police.

And sure enough, CAA’s child welfare agenda has not one specific proposal to curb entries into care, and nothing that would curb the vast power of DCS.  Mostly their agenda involves “fixing” foster care.  So when Lujan promises not to do anything radical, we can all take him at his word.

So can we expect change when David Lujan starts running DCS?  Sure.  Caseworkers will have to keep their “professional kidnapper” T-shirts hidden.

A postscript

Arizona media continue to disappoint: The three stories I read about Lujan's appointment all repeat the allegations against Stewart, none includes his response and the other context provided by ProPublica.