NY kids at increased risk due to critical gaps in foster home records, audit finds

NY kids at increased risk due to critical gaps in foster home records, audit finds

Why is foster care so important?

by Matthew Leonard of Democrat & Chronicle

Children in New York state’s foster care system are at increased risk of being placed in unacceptable situations due to gaps in casework records and missed or undocumented follow-up visits, according to the findings of an audit from the State Comptroller’s office.

In one case cited by the auditors, a child placed in foster care in Wayne County in June 2015 went completely unmonitored by case workers for several months. The report also found that the foster parent’s home was not properly recertified and the child was not given the opportunity to provide feedback on their foster care placement.

Foster care in the state is overseen by the Office of Children and Family Services, Division of Child Welfare and Community Services, while services are delivered locally through county social services and voluntary agencies.

Foster homes must be recertified annually.

Why is foster care so important?

The comptroller’s office inspected the records of 10 sites including six in Ontario, Wayne, Erie, Schenectady, Tompkins, and Westchester counties, and four operated by the voluntary agencies Kidspeace, House of the Good Shepherd, Cayuga Home and Buffalo Urban League.

The records are intended to document whether the background checks for criminal or abuse history of residents in those foster homes have been completed, and whether follow-up home visits have been carried out.

Why is foster care so important?

The report reviewed the case files of 150 children in care and found that in 50 of those, there was a lack of evidence that there that had been two contacts with the foster parents within the first 30 days of placement, as required by OCFS regulations. In 10 of the cases, it took more than 60 days for the initial caseworker contact with the foster parents.

There was evidence that 12 foster parents were not visited in the foster home, the OSC found.

In five of the home files, auditors could not find documentation that key criminal and abuse history checks had been carried out.

The agency (OCFS) 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.Tom DiNapoli (comptroller)

In its key recommendation, the comptroller’s office urged OCFS to implement strategies to improve the reporting and certification compliance of collaborating agencies and “improve…(the) promptness and frequency of casework contact services.”

A letter signed by the OCFS Division of Child Welfare and Community Services Deputy Commissioner Laura Velez “strongly” rejected the report’s findings, pointing to “multiple legal and factual inaccuracies.”

The OCFS said that “over a third ” of the unique findings by the Office of State Comptroller are “inaccurate”, while failing to produce evidence to refute the other cases, the OSC wrote.

“OCFS’s defensive and dismissive response is not indicative of an appropriate agency control environment…”, the audit said.

The OCFS argued that the comptroller’s office had overstated requirements for when data about casework contacts needed to be entered into the automated IT system for the state’s child welfare programs called CONNECTIONS.

“The 30-day timeframe is only an OCFS recommendation for best practice…Neither OCFS regulation nor applicable law set for a minimum time frame for entering casework contacts…”

Why is foster care so important?

The comptroller’s office commented that the 30-day time frame was based on the agency’s own guidelines and went further to say “Given the vulnerable nature of these children, we are troubled by OCFS’s tacit approval of caseworkers taking more than a month to record their contacts with children (and sometimes taking as long as ten months.)”

In one extreme example, it took 427 days for a report about a casework visit that took place in July 2015 to be entered in September 2016; nine days after the auditors visited the site.

“When records are not contemporaneous with the events in question, they are of limited evidentiary value,”

The comptroller’s office welcomed initiatives that OCFS said were already underway to address many of the issues in the report.

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