Breaking News
More () »

Governor-elect Katie Hobbs taps new DCS director

Matthew Stewart stepped away from his job at DCS after learning of racial disparities impacting Black families in the Valley. Now, he's back to lead the agency.

PHOENIX — Changes are coming to Arizona's Department of Child Safety after governor-elect Katie Hobbs announced a new director for the agency.

Matthew Stewart will become the agency's first Black director and the fourth person to head the agency. DCS was created in 2014 to replace Child Protective Services which was shut down after years of systemic failures.

Stewart spoke to NBC News in a recent investigation examining racial disparities affecting Black families in the Valley.

“Our community is being stripped of its children," Stewart said.

Stewart worked for DCS in a variety of roles since 2009, but in 2018, he came across an internal spreadsheet outlining the racial disparity.

The National Academy of Sciences published a study projecting that by the time Black children in Maricopa County turn 18, there is a 63% chance they will see their parents investigated by DCS.

“I’m at an agency who I don’t believe is treating Black families with justice. I was ashamed to be honest," Stewart said.

So he left. Stewart then founded "Our Sister Our Brother," a nonprofit dedicated to reuniting families and preventing unnecessary removals.

“I’m hopeful that will make a change but it really will take that strong message across the state to say this is how we will treat families," Stewart said in his interview with NBC News.

New DCS director is son of well-known pastor and civil rights activist

Stewart comes from a family that is no stranger to pushing for change. His father is well-known civil rights activist Dr. Warren Stewart St., the pastor and founder of First Institutional Baptist Church, which is the oldest Black Baptist church in the Valley.

Stewart Sr. played an integral role in getting Arizona to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day an official state holiday.

Child fatality report reveals there is work to be done

Stewart will have a full plate when he takes over the historically-embattled agency.

This year's annual fatality report revealed in 2022 showed that 160 children died allegedly due to abuse or neglect. Of those 160 deaths, 40% of them had at least one prior report with DCS involving the victim or the suspect.

Earlier this year, current DCS Director Mike Faust had to answer to lawmakers after countless reports of violence and drug use at foster homes owned by North Star Independent Living Services were ignored. It led to a teenage resident being shot and killed inside one of the homes.

Up to Speed

Catch up on the latest news and stories on our 12News YouTube playlist here.

Before You Leave, Check This Out