Our follow-up audit of the California Department of Social Services‘ (Social Services) progress in addressing issues we raised in our 2011 audit highlighted the following:
- Although Social Services began conducting regular address comparisons using the sex offender registry and its licensing information and case management systems, it needs to be more accountable for the address matches and better document its investigative procedures.
- Because of a methodological error, it did not begin comparing the addresses of its licensed facilities and foster homes against the entire sex offender registry until almost two years after implementation of the address comparison.
- It has not fully developed procedures for screening address matches and for reviewing the results of a county’s investigations.
- It has not been adequately tracking the outcome of each match it identifies—Social Services was unable to initially account for the results of more than 8,600 potential address matches.
- Counties continue to pay, without adequate justification, monthly rates to foster family agencies that are much higher than the rates for other placements because Social Services has not done the following:
- Revised its rates paid to foster family agencies so that each component of the rates have reasonable support.
- Changed its regulations so that licensed foster family homes receive a higher priority than foster family agencies.
- Required counties to provide justification for any child placed with a foster family agency.
Results in Brief
The California Department of Social Services (Social Services) oversees the efforts of counties to protect California children from abuse and neglect. When these agencies determine that children’s safety is at risk, they have the authority to remove them from their homes and place them with relatives, foster parents, or group homes. Social Services is taking steps to improve its oversight of these placements, but it needs to take more action to resolve deficiencies we identified in the past. In October 2011 the California State Auditor issued a reported titled Child Welfare Services: California Can and Must Provide Better Protection and Support for Abused and Neglected Children, Report 2011‑101.1. The 2011 audit report included a recommendation to improve the safety of foster children by creating an address comparison process to ensure that registered sex offenders are not living or working among them. Furthermore, the 2011 audit made several recommendations to address counties’ increased reliance on foster family agencies—typically private nonprofit organizations that recruit and certify foster homes, and that are more expensive than placements with relatives or with foster homes licensed by Social Services or counties.
Social Services’ progress in implementing our 2011 recommendations has been mixed. This follow‑up audit found that, although Social Services implemented our recommendation to conduct regular address comparisons using the California Department of Justice’s California Sex and Arson Registry (sex offender registry) and its Licensing Information System and Child Welfare Services/Case Management System, it needs to be more accountable for the address matches it identifies and better document certain investigative procedures. Specifically, Social Services began conducting address comparisons in December 2011, and it has continued to perform this process regularly since then. However, because of a methodological error, it did not begin comparing the addresses of its licensed facilities and foster homes against the entire sex offender registry until October 2013. Further, Social Services has not fully developed certain procedures for screening address matches and for reviewing the results of a county’s investigations; therefore, it could better document its procedures in these areas. Moreover, Social Services has not been adequately tracking the outcome of each match it identified, which raises concerns that some address matches were not appropriately reviewed. In fact, Social Services was unable to initially account for the results of more than 8,600 potential address matches.
Over the last four years, the placement of foster children with more expensive foster family agencies has decreased. We attribute this decrease to the financial incentives created by the 2011 public safety realignment, which enables counties to keep any savings resulting from using lower‑cost placement options, and to Social Services’ continued efforts to encourage placements with foster children’s relatives. Even so, Social Services still has not addressed our recommendation to revise its rates paid to foster family agencies to ensure that it has reasonable support to justify each rate component. Further, 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. Consequently, counties continue to pay monthly rates to foster family agencies that are much higher than the rates for other placements without adequate justification. We estimate that if Social Services were to implement our recommendations related to foster family agencies by July 2015, counties could save $116 million over the next five years.
To ensure that all address matches of registered sex offenders who potentially reside or work at a licensed facility or foster home are reviewed, Social Services should improve its current mechanism to track and monitor the outcome of each address match it identifies.
To improve its review process, preserve institutional knowledge, and ensure that staff consistently implement registered sex offender reviews in the future, Social Services should better document its review procedures.
To ensure that counties’ use of foster family agency placements is justified, Social Services should take action to implement the recommendations we previously made in our 2011 audit. Specifically, Social Services should do the following:
- Continue working to revise its rates paid to foster family agencies and ensure that it has reasonable support to justify each rate component, especially the administrative fee it currently pays these agencies.
- Require counties to give licensed foster homes a higher priority than foster family agencies for children who do not have identified treatment needs.
- Require counties to prepare a detailed justification for any child placed with a foster family agency.
Social Services generally agreed with our conclusions and recommendations.