State Still Not Checking on Foster Care Kids Near Sex Offenders

Thursday, July 09, 2015

You know what you get when you crosscheck the state’s foster care database against a list of sex offenders? Eighty-six hundred possible address overlaps no one has investigated, according to the California State Auditor’s latest update (pdf) on how the Department of Social Services is doing. 

Those crosscheck hits shouldn’t happen and should be checked out when discovered. But the department has had problems with this issue since at least before the auditor first reported about it in 2008. Back then, the auditor found the department didn’t even have full access to the sex offender information.

Three years later, the department had access but didn’t bother checking. Further chastising from the auditor ensued. This audit updates the 2011 report and found in general that the department is “making progress” overseeing county efforts to protect children from abuse and neglect. But it still has a problem with sex offender contact.

The department was properly cross-checking the sex registry in 2013, but continues to do a lousy job of following up suspicious information. State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote in the report said:

“Of the nearly 25,000 potential address matches, Social Services could not initially provide documentation for more than 8,600 to demonstrate that any outcomes had been reached. Moreover, investigations for more than 400 potential address matches were more than 45 days past due.”

There was no organized review process that reconciled the tracking and investigations with the list of suspicious contacts. Two of the four investigative units didn’t document how they chose their subjects and the other two didn’t explain why they ignored certain matches.

A spokesman for Social Services told the Los Angeles Times that the 8,600 unreviewed potential contacts between foster kids and sex offenders will be completed within 60 days. Some of the kids, who can come in contact with the offenders in the home or at the foster care agency, may be overlooked siblings of kids already reviewed, he said.

When Howle last looked at Social Services five years ago, she also found a problem with its increased reliance on foster care agencies. They were more expensive and didn’t do as well as foster parents chosen directly by government. She recommended the department reprioritize but that didn’t happen:

“Social Services has yet to change its regulations so that licensed foster family homes receive a higher priority than foster family agencies, nor does it require counties to provide a justification for any child placed with a foster family agency.”

The auditor calculated that if the department followed her suggestions, the state would save $116 million over the next five years. She recommended the department follow her recommendations this time.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

State Auditor Cites Failure to Protect Foster Youth from Sex Offenders (by Garrett Therolf, Los Angeles Times)

Although Making Progress, It Could Do More to Ensure the Protection and Appropriate Placement of Foster Children (California State Auditor) (pdf)

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