This week, Hobbs, a Democrat, introduced that she has chosen Matthew Stewart, a Black group advocate, as the brand new head of Arizona’s Division of Baby Security. Stewart beforehand labored at DCS as a case supervisor and coaching supervisor for a decade earlier than quitting in 2020, later saying he was ashamed by the racial disproportionality he was seeing in his work.
Stewart, who’s the son of the longtime senior pastor of Phoenix’s most distinguished Black church, would be the first Black chief of the division, changing its present director, Mike Faust. Faust had been appointed by outgoing Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican.
Arizona’s little one welfare system has lengthy disproportionately investigated Black households. In keeping with the ProPublica-NBC Information investigation, which highlighted Stewart’s function, 1 in 3 Black kids in metro Phoenix confronted a DCS investigation in only a latest five-year interval. Faust mentioned the division had made progress over that point, however the information organizations discovered that whereas the general variety of investigations has gone down, the racial disparity between white and Black households has solely elevated.
After leaving DCS, Stewart shaped the group group Our Sister Our Brother, which has fought the division for extra equitable therapy of Black and likewise low-income mother and father.
This fall, he instructed ProPublica and NBC Information that generational poverty and the ensuing trauma inside households, which in some instances can result in parenting issues and in flip DCS investigations, have been “centuries within the making.” Are mother and father imagined to imagine, he requested, that after the division takes custody of their kids, “this stuff might be solved?”
“I merely don’t assume DCS is the company to do that,” he mentioned.
Stewart will now run that very company.
Stewart was not instantly out there for an interview. However he mentioned in a press release that he’ll strengthen the state’s partnerships with group organizations and hopes that below his crew’s management, the division will “turn out to be a spot for encouraging and facilitating group therapeutic” partially by offering extra assets to households in want.
In a separate assertion, the governor-elect mentioned that Stewart is aware of tips on how to maintain kids secure based mostly on his expertise working at DCS, but additionally tips on how to get households assist and maintain them united. “He’s a frontrunner who will be sure that we are able to proceed to rework our public programs so they’re aware of the communities that we serve,” Hobbs mentioned.
Baby welfare consultants within the state and households affected by the system praised Stewart’s choice, although some puzzled how a lot change he may result in even in DCS’ prime place.
“Matthew Stewart has been singularly centered on preserving households safely collectively,” mentioned Claire Louge, government director of Forestall Baby Abuse Arizona, a corporation that gives companies and coaching to stop little one maltreatment. However, she identified, like all DCS administrators he “will face the problem of main an company that’s perpetually criticized — both for eradicating kids from their households an excessive amount of or too little.”
Richard Wexler, government director of the Nationwide Coalition for Baby Safety Reform, an advocacy group, famous that “Arizona’s extremely robust to repair.” He pointed to a earlier Democratic governor of the state, Janet Napolitano, whose reform-minded pick to lead DCS’ forerunner agency couldn’t repair the system’s racial disproportionality 20 years in the past. “We’ll see how a lot instances have modified,” Wexler mentioned.
Tyra Smith, a Phoenix-area dad or mum who has private expertise with the kid welfare system and has labored straight with Stewart as a dad or mum advocate, mentioned she is hopeful about Stewart’s management however worries that when given a brand new function, folks can change.
“I simply don’t need to be forgotten about,” she mentioned.
Stewart’s first order of enterprise probably might be choosing new senior workers; he has been crucial of a number of of DCS’ present prime officers.
He additionally has expressed pleasure about putting in a brand new Cultural Brokers program that may be sure that a trusted group member of the identical race is current when DCS caseworkers present up at a household’s door.
However Stewart might be partially hamstrung by the truth that the Legislature, nonetheless in Republican palms, is unlikely to regulate its anti-poverty agenda to get extra financial help and assist companies to struggling households so as to stop little one maltreatment instances earlier than they occur. At present, Arizona spends a majority of its welfare finances not on direct help to low-income mother and father however on DCS investigations of them, as ProPublica reported in 2021.
Stewart additionally must concentrate on greater than the racial disparity subject: DCS has been tormented by different scandals lately, in addition to little one fatalities. In a single instance, the outgoing director, Faust, was grilled by legislators about studies of violence and drug use within the state’s foster system, main to 1 teenager at a gaggle residence being shot and killed.
However for the handfuls of Black households throughout metro Phoenix who spoke with ProPublica and NBC Information this yr, there may be lastly a way that somebody who seems to be like them, who has truly interacted with them and who will take heed to them is now ready of energy in a state the place solely two of 90 state legislators are Black. Many mentioned in interviews that they know Stewart understands the fixed, communitywide dread they really feel, on condition that in Maricopa County, 63% of Black children will go through a DCS investigation by the point they flip 18.
After Hobbs defeated Kari Lake within the governor’s race, Stewart instructed ProPublica and NBC Information that “I imagine this can work to our profit.” He famous that Hobbs’ background as a social employee may present her with “a values body and openness to vary that may assist information her administration and selection of advisers.”
Stewart mentioned he “can’t predict the long run,” however “I’m optimistic, and I imagine it’s by no means too quickly for hope.”
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