DiNapoli: OCFS Should Improve Foster Care Placement Oversight
Auditors find poor record keeping
The state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) could not show that caseworkers contacted children in foster care within the first 30 days of their placement and lacked documentation proving children were placed in foster homes that met program certifications, according to an audit released by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
"The state Office of Children and Family Services is responsible for the well-being of one of the most vulnerable segments of our population," DiNapoli said. "The agency is not ensuring that caseworkers are making timely and frequent contact with children, their parents and their foster parents. While the demands on the agency are significant, oversight needs to be improved."
OCFS regulates and supervises child welfare services, including foster care and adoption, through its Division of Child Welfare and Community Services. Regional Offices oversee the entities that provide child welfare services, including voluntary agencies (VAs) and local Departments of Social Services (counties). These entities administer the foster care program, including placing children in foster care settings, certifying and approving certain foster homes, and providing casework services to children and families. The audit covered the period from April 1, 2012 through March 22, 2017.
Auditors used foster care population data provided by OCFS to select a sample of six counties (Erie, Ontario, Schenectady, Tompkins, Wayne and Westchester) and four VAs (Buffalo Urban League, Cayuga Home, House of the Good Shepherd and Kidspeace) to visit and review selected records.
In total, 150 childrens cases were reviewed. Casework records for 33 of those 150 selected lacked evidence that caseworkers had two contacts with the child within the first 30 days of placement, as required.
For example, auditors found the first contact with a child from Schenectady County placed in June 2015 did not occur until 91 days after placement, which was also the date of first contact with the foster parent. The second contact with the child occurred 112 days after placement. Contact with the parent was similarly late, with the first contact occurring 76 days after placement and the second 135 days after placement, neither of which occurred in the home. Auditors also found no record of monthly contacts with the foster parent for three of 11 months reviewed, and none with the parent for two of 11 months reviewed.
Finally, the home certification/approval file lacked evidence that two State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment checks requested by the county were done, and also lacked a required medical report. The medical report was later obtained as a result of DiNapoli’s audit.
OCFS said that contacts for the child from Schenectady met requirements. However, at the time of the auditors’ site visit, a record of these contacts was not provided to auditors. Further, information OCFS provided in response to our findings indicated that these contacts were likely entered into case records after auditors communicated the deficiencies.
Other key findings include:
- Foster home records at 10 sites visited lacked evidence that counties or VAs met certain critical foster home certification/approval and recertification requirements, thus increasing the risk of placing children in an unacceptable environment.
- For 30 of the 150 selected children, 162 contacts were not entered within the 30-day requirement. For example, for one child, 23 contacts were entered anywhere from 35 to 244 days after they took place.
- A separate case, for which county staff entered casework contact information nine days after auditors’ August 2016 site visit, represented a full 427 days between the July 2015 contact and the date that information about it was entered into required records.
DiNapoli recommends OCFS:
- Identify and implement strategies to improve county and VA compliance with requirements for the certification and approval of foster homes, promptness and frequency of casework contact services, and timely entry of casework contact progress notes.
- Identify and correct the inconsistencies and errors in foster care population data, and take prompt steps to address those that may compromise its completeness and/or accuracy.
OCFS disagreed with the audit findings, stating that because there are no specific laws or regulations that specify its minimum performance standards it is inappropriate for an outside agency to gauge their performance. DiNapoli's auditors pointed out that OCFS’ own internal standards were utilized in conducting the audit.
To read the full audit report, visit: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093017/15s79.htm
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