Arizona Department of Child Safety Computer System Problems Persist

Four months after its launch, the Arizona Department of Child Safety computer system continues to vex adoptive and adoptive parents, as well as others.

Foster parents must log into a portal on the new system at the start of each month to check how many children are in their care and to submit invoices for the monthly allowance due to them. But when some signed up last week, the records didn’t match the number of children placed with them.

Lawyers handling out-of-foster adoptions say they’ve waited months for payment; one lawyer said he had to resort to outside funding to maintain his practice.

And caregivers who say their most recent payments are going smoothly report that they are still waiting for overdue amounts.

Richard Kendall, who adopted one of his grandsons and is the legal guardian of his other two grandsons, is awaiting a payment of $680 he owed in February.

“I got so many promises: ‘First of the month, first of the month,'” Kendall said when asked about the missing money. This led him to wonder: will the state pay interest on the money owed?

“If the IRS is late, they just pay interest without asking,” he said.

The problems stem from the move to an $86 million computer system called Guardian which went live on February 1. However, despite years of development, DCS disabled access to the Caregiver Portal for nearly two months, confusing and angering hundreds of foster and adoptive families. parents, as well as group home operators.

The agency said the move was necessary to reduce any start-up stress when contractors and DCS staff signed on.

DCS: “Deeply sorry” for the problems

The agency apologized for the ongoing issues while assuring users that things are getting better.

“The department is deeply sorry for the negative outcome caregivers have experienced,” the agency said in a statement Friday.

He acknowledged that many caregivers — the people DCS relies on to care for children in the foster care system — don’t trust the new system. However, in a detailed statement, DCS pointed out that things have improved and said foster parents who call to ask questions are noticing an improvement.

In the statement, the agency addressed key issues it is working on, such as making sure foster care placements are properly listed and updated, and making sure all calls to its helpline assistance receive a response.

He also said he was working with caregivers to ensure they had an account with Guardian. Caregivers who created an account before the system launched seemed to have fewer problems than those who signed up after the February debut.

But since February, the agency has refused to detail why the system was not working properly or explain why it launched a new system without a backup plan. The Arizona Republic has repeatedly requested an interview with any agency officials who could speak knowledgeably about the issues with the system.

The staff member who oversaw the Guardian project resigned in March, citing a move to be closer to family. A month earlier, she told a technology watchdog that the launch was going well without disruption, even though adoptive parents were complaining about missing payments.

Later, problems arose when the state’s Ombudsman/Citizens’ Aid, as well as the state’s foster home review boards, were denied access to the new system, a change from previous practice.

Lawmakers stepped in and passed a bill that requires DCS to give these agencies access to the records they need to do their jobs. The Ombudsman works to resolve citizen issues with state agencies such as DCS, which Review Boards need to see foster family records to advise juvenile court judges on the case of a child.

The bill passed with bipartisan support, and Governor Doug Ducey signed it into law in April.

In its statement Friday, DCS said it was working to update approvals for foster care placements. That’s what led to some of this month’s issues: Service approvals for foster children expire after six months and must be renewed. Without renewal, the child is removed from the system.

He also said he was working to settle payments due to adoption attorneys. The state covers the legal costs of adoptions for foster children.

Contact the reporter at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl.

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Gordon K. Morehouse