The federal government has given California bad marks on monitoring the well-being of children in foster care.
State officials were slow to investigate complaints of abuse or neglect, failed to notify investigators of serious sexual abuse allegations and didn’t follow up to ensure cases were resolved, according to an audit released late Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.
In some cases, investigations took more than a year to complete, according to the report. It said these problems arose either because officials didn’t follow procedures or because they had not been properly trained to handle complaints. An auditreleased in May by the inspector general revealed similar deficiencies in the foster care agency of Texas.
Michael Weston, a spokesman for the California Department of Social Services, said his agency agreed with the report’s findings, which were provided to the agency earlier, and either has implemented or is working on the changes recommended by federal auditors. The auditors noted that the agency has re-hired former employees to support investigations of complaints and has created dashboards for managers to better track the progress of investigations.
“The failure to complete investigations in a timely manner — noted in 78 of 100 complaints — is the most egregious finding in the report.”
Bill Grimm, senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law
The state agency oversees about 60,000 children under 18 who are in foster care. Federal auditors reviewed 100 cases selected from among the nearly 6,200 complaint investigations completed by the state agency between 2013 and 2015.
California’s child welfare system has been scrutinized in recent years as media reports have highlighted the overuse of powerful psychiatric drugs and the dubious arrests of foster children in temporary shelters around the state. The state has been criticized previously for lagging on investigations of abuse and neglect. California’s privatization of some foster care, leaving independent agencies to recruit and oversee foster families, also has raised concerns.
Child welfare experts say that it’s important to investigate reports of abuse or neglect in foster homes quickly and thoroughly because the consequences for vulnerable children can be severe, even fatal. A 4-year-old Sacramento girl was killed in her foster home in 2010, apparently burned by a Molotov cocktail. She…