A former Arizona child welfare caseworker who left the agency to fight against unnecessary family separation has been selected as the next director of the state’s Department of Child Safety.
Matthew Stewart was appointed by incoming Governor Katie Hobbs in late December. Stewart resigned from the department in 2020 because of the extreme racial disparity among children in Arizona’s foster care system, and deep concerns about how the department treated Black families. Stewart will be the department’s first Black director.
“We are building an inclusive government that reflects the diversity of our great state,” Hobbs tweeted. “Beyond proud to be making history with Matthew Stewart.” Hobbs, a Democrat, also has a background in social work, focused on domestic violence.
Stewart will replace Michael Faust, who was appointed in 2019 by Republican former Gov. Doug Ducey. There are roughly 13,000 children and young adults in foster care in the state, and Stewart will oversee a staff of approximately 2,800.
Stewart spent 10 years working in Arizona’s child welfare department, originally joining in 2009 as a caseworker and eventually growing into a management role. After leaving the agency in 2020, he launched Our Brother, Our Sister, a nonprofit focused on facilitating family reunification and preventing removals into foster care.
In a recent interview with NBC News, Stewart said he was driven to do this work after realizing the stark racial disparity among families investigated by Arizona’s child welfare officials — a systemic problem he did not feel he could sufficiently address within the system. In Maricopa County, the largest county in Arizona, Black children have a 63% chance of seeing their parents investigated for abuse or neglect, according to a 2021 study from the National Academy of Sciences.
Stewart says he is “on a mission” to “change the culture of how we respond to community needs and support families,” per his bio on the Our Brother, Our Sister website. Advocating on behalf of Black families was a priority while working for the agency, too, when he helped launch the African American Disparity Committee.
“We have a culture that says Black families need to be watched,” Stewart told NBC News. “And if we don’t agree with the things that are going on with them, we are the saviors of these children and are charged with punishing their parents.”