Audit Finds Arizona Child Services Failed Foster Kids

August 12, 2023

By Corinne Murdock |  

An audit released last month found that the Arizona Department of Child Services (DCS) has failed to follow state law on information sharing and case review attendance for foster children. 

The report was the first in a three-part series on DCS, determining whether DCS followed law to provide the information necessary for local foster care review boards to complete foster children’s cases. The auditor general, Lindsey Perry, found that DCS caseworkers failed to provide all the necessary documents for children’s cases, and failed to attend case review meetings. 

There are 109 local boards that determine foster cases; these boards rely on the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to relay information from DCS. The auditor general found that DCS consistently failed to provide case documents to the AOC through their automated application, Guardian. The auditor general found that the poor DCS performance not only hindered children’s cases, but diminished trust from the AOC and the local boards.

“[T]he automated information exchange not providing some information to AOC on behalf of local boards has negatively impacted AOC’s and local boards’ trust and confidence in the Department and the Department’s reputation,” stated Perry. “As a result, AOC staff reported that they and local boards may assume that the Department has withheld information that should have been provided, which has negatively impacted AOC’s and local boards’ trust in and working relationship with the Department.”

Local boards require three necessary documents: the court report, which DCS develops for hearings; the case plan, in which DCS outlines the goals and tasks necessary to ensure a child achieves permanency; and the Team Decision Making (TDM) meeting summary, in which DCS summarizes decisions made during meetings about a child’s safety, stability, and permanency.

The auditor general report found that all 13 samples of 124 case reviews conducted by local boards on June 28, 2022, and July 6, 2022 failed to include a complete version of those three necessary documents. That came out to 31 of 39 case documents provided incompletely or not provided at all.

According to the report, AOC staff and local board volunteers experienced difficulty in conducting reviews due to the lack of information about children’s cases.   

Part of the information exchange failure resulted from AOC staff failing to submit valid document requests. That mistake resulted in 15 of the 31 missing case documents. The auditor general also found that DCS caseworkers failed to store complete case documents in Guardian in 10 of the 31 faulty or missing case documents. This latter mistake by DCS accounted for some of the AOC staff members’ faulty document requests: AOC failed to obtain the necessary documents because DCS failed to upload into the system. 

The auditor general noted that DCS policy doesn’t advise superiors on proper punitive measures.

4 of the 31 missing case documents were due to DCS determining they weren’t necessary and therefore weren’t stored in Guardian — a circumstance which DCS doesn’t communicate to AOC. The remaining 2 missing or inaccessible documents were due to a software issue and a limitation on legal document access, respectively.  

The state legislature passed changes to the law through HB2213 requiring DCS to provide AOC direct, remote access to Guardian in addition to any DCS information necessary for local board duties.

DCS attempted to dismiss the significance of their shortcomings in information exchange via Guardian, advising the auditor general that AOC staff may request case documents via other means, such as when emailing reminders to caseworkers about local board reviews, or accessing the Maricopa County Superior Court IT system. However, the auditor general dismissed these alternatives as time-consuming.  

“[O]btaining case documents from these alternative sources may require both AOC and Department staff to spend additional and potentially unnecessary time that could be otherwise spent on other mission critical activities,” stated Perry. 

Perry advised that DCS should provide all necessary case documents, hold monthly supervision meetings with caseworks to ensure document compliance, revise and implement policies and procedures to require caseworkers to store court reports in Guardian by verification of supervisors, implement guidance for supervisors to handle non-compliant caseworkers, and solicit continued feedback from AOC on their information exchange. DCS agreed to implement the proposed changes.   

The auditor general also found that 18 percent of caseworkers on a sample of days failed to follow policy requiring either attendance or having their supervisor attend local board case reviews, and notify AOC if attendance isn’t possible. In two of the 124 case reviews observed in which the caseworker failed to show or provide a case update, the auditor general noted that the local board was unable to determine the status of a child who’d been hospitalized for abuse and a child plagued by mental health and self-harm issues. 

The auditor general recommended that DCS ensure caseworkers comply with policy requirements on case review attendance, revise and implement policy to provide case updates, and work with AOC to determine information for updates when caseworkers can’t attend.  

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

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