PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Child Safety is moving its process of reviewing its compliance with child protection policies in-house.

The child welfare agency is disbanding citizen panels intended to bring an outside view on its work.

Opponents of the move, which was announced last month by Department of Child Safety Director Greg McKay, say they fear it will further insulate the agency from outside oversight.

“At their core, these panels need to have some level of autonomy from the agency,” said Blake Jones, a University of Kentucky social-work professor who has taken on the informal role of tracking the work of these panels nationwide. He coordinated the state of Kentucky’s panel for 15 years as an outside adviser.

Congress created the panels in 1996. In Arizona, they have historically been coordinated through a group outside the agency. Initially it was the state Department of Health Services, but later moved to Arizona State University’s School of Social Work, The Arizona Republic reported .

Experts say it’s not unusual for the citizen panels to be run by the agency they were created to advise.

McKay thanked the panels and Arizona State University last month for their work, but gave them notice the contract would end this month, when each panel submits its annual report.

It is unclear who will appoint the new panels’ members, or when they will be in place. But McKay held out the possibility that current panel members might be invited to remain, writing that he encouraged their continued involvement as Department of Child Safety advisers.

Judy Krysik runs Arizona State University’s Center for Child Well-Being, which has coordinated the panels for the agency for the past nine years.

“It would be like the fox watching the hen house,” Krysik said of the prospect of moving oversight in-house.

Information from: The Arizona Republic,