Care System Lacks Oversight
Gongwer News Service, August 17, 2005
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of Human Services has not been providing the oversight needed in
the foster care system, nor has it met federal goals for the
system, said Auditor General Thomas McTavish in a sharply
critical report released Wednesday.
Among the key findings in the performance audit of the
Children's Foster Care Program, covering October 1, 2000,
through May 31, 2004, the then-Department of Human Services had
not conducted criminal background checks on those working in the
foster care system, had not provided required visits to foster
children and had not monitored contractors to be sure they were
delivering proper services.
But Human Services Director Marianne Udow said the audit looked
only at paperwork and not at the actual function of the program.
"It is an audit that is focused on documentation," she said.
"What it didn't look at was the overall safety of children in
the foster care system. We do believe children are safe in
"We think much more fundamental is to change the child welfare
system so we are engaged in prevention and early intervention,"
Ms. Udow said. "That's what we're doing with the family to
The department is, however, working to improve on the
documentation that auditors found lacking or missing. Ms. Udow
pointed, for instance, to an agreement with the Department of
State Police that would provide Human Services with an automated
connection to the Law Enforcement Information Network to
complete and record criminal background checks.
Law requires the state to provide criminal background checks on
anyone in the foster care system having contact with children,
including adults living in a foster home but not providing care
to the children. But, in one of the five more serious "material"
findings in the report, auditors said those background checks
were not being completed.
Material findings in an audit could affect the operations of a
program, while reportable conditions are areas where the
department could improve its operations.
Of the 10,000 foster care providers, auditors found 321 with
criminal convictions issued during the audit period that might
have disqualified them from providing care. Of 2,900 other
adults living in foster homes, auditors found 32 with
convictions that could disqualify the home from providing foster
Auditors reviewed 16 of the providers with convictions and found
in 12 cases the department did not have documentation that it
had conducted background checks during the audit period. And of
six homes where other adults had convictions, five of those had
no record of background checks of those adults.
While the department agreed it had a responsibility to conduct
background checks, it disagreed that it had failed in that
responsibility. Officials said the finding that there was not a
record of a background check for the 12 foster care providers
was based on lack of a specific form to record the check, but
they said that form was not yet required when 11 of those cases
And officials noted that recent federal audits had indicated the
state's background check system, which includes the child abuse
registry as well as the Law Enforcement Information Network, was
a strength of the program.
Auditors said they had not asked only for the current required
forms, but for any information that would provide proof of a
criminal history check.
While officials agreed periodic background checks of providers
would be helpful, they said there are no laws or policies
requiring those checks.
The report was the second consecutive audit to find the
department and its contractors were not conducting sufficient
visits to foster homes, another material finding against the
department. Of 106 files reviewed, 96 did not have documents to
show workers had conducted the minimum required visits to foster
"Without periodic caseworker visits, DHS cannot effectively
assess the safety and appropriateness of the environment the
children are in or observe the physical well-being and demeanor
of the children and their interaction with their foster parents
and parents from whom they were removed," the report said. "In
addition, without periodic caseworker visits, DHS cannot always
be sure that the children, their parents, and their foster
parents receive timely, relevant services."
Department officials agreed on the need for visits, as well as
on the need to document those visits. But they said in many
cases the visits were happening, but not being documented. A new
system is helping workers to automate the documentation of those
visits, they said.
In lesser findings, auditors also cited the department for not
having timely foster care service plans and for not ensuring
that foster children are receiving, and having documented,
needed health care.
Officials again disagreed that the services were not being
provided, but agreed that they should be better documented.
In another material finding, auditors said the department was
not effectively overseeing the contractors running parts of the
system. "An improved monitoring process should help DHS ensure
that contracted agencies provide the level of foster care
services for which they were contracted and also provide DHS
with information to assess the effectiveness of each contracted
agency in meeting performance standards specified in their
contracts," the report said.
The department's goal was reviews of each contractor at least
every two years. But of 172 contractors, 90 had no records of
any reviews. Among the other 82, 29 showed the most recent
review between 25 months and 70 months prior to the audit
period. And 22 contract files could not be located.
Where corrective action plans were needed, the department was
also not ensuring that they were submitted within 30 days of the
report. And the department was not always following up that the
plans were being implemented within 60 days as required.
The department agreed that it was not meeting the frequency of
reviews required in its policy, but said it has since changed
the policy to reflect the loss of two monitor positions to early
But officials disagreed the reviews it conducted were
inadequate. The on-site visits and follow-up work have been
prioritized from the foster care program, but they said the
Office of Child and Adult Licensing also reviews many of the
facilities. They said caseworkers also keep tabs on contractors
through their visits with foster parents, families and children.
Auditors, citing the finding about child visits, noted foster
care workers were not in regular contact with foster parents,
families and children as the department claimed.
Auditors also cited the department for not ensuring agreements
were in place under the Interstate Compact on the Placing of
Children before children were moved to out-of-state foster
homes, another of the material findings. Of seven cases where
children were placed in other states, five were ordered by the
courts. But in only one of those was an interstate agreement
DHS officials agreed that the agreements should be in place and
said in most cases they are, but they said with or without the
agreements changing a child's placement requires a court order.
In the cases where the auditors found placements should have
changed but were not, the department was unable to obtain such
an order, they said.
Auditors also cited as a material condition that the department
had not met any of the seven federal child welfare outcomes. "DHS's
inability to achieve substantial conformity with federally
required standards indicates that DHS may not have provided
effective services to children who were removed from their homes
because of abuse and neglect," the report said.
Among those outcomes is permanency of living situations,
maintenance of family relationships, protection from abuse, and
provision of appropriate services.
While the department admitted that it has not met the outcomes,
it disagreed that reflected poorly on the service it provides,
noting that no state has met the outcomes. It has implemented a
program improvement plan, accepted by federal officials in May
2004, and has met the goals of that plan for the past three
But auditors found the department did not have a process to
evaluate the effectiveness of the program. In particular, it did
not have measurable outcomes and had not developed data
collection or reports to support any goals.
The department disagreed with the finding to the extent that it
asked that the finding be removed from the report.
Gates: Schools, Not Taxes Key to High-Tech Jobs
Gongwer News Service, August 17, 2005
Cutting-edge companies will locate and expand in states based
more on their talent pool and less on their tax policy,
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told thousands of rapt delegates
at Wednesday's session of the 2005 National Conference of State
Mr. Gates also said he found it "scary" that nations like India
and China are putting more emphasis on science and engineering
than are students in the United States. Reports that the fastest
growing college major is physical education is not a good
long-term sign for the U.S. economy, he said.
To applause, Mr. Gates said states should look at their
education policies, both K-12 and higher education, as one of
their highest priorities.
Often noted as the world's best-known and richest college
dropout, Mr. Gates said it was "ironic" that the workers
Microsoft looks to hire have to have four-year college degrees,
and are both conversant with technology and willing to take
risks. That budding Microsoft workers have to have college
degrees brought laughter from the crowd.
Mr. Gates commanded attention from the audience such as few
other speakers at an NCSL meeting have done. Literally every
seat in the ballroom where he spoke was taken, and people stood
two and three deep along the walls and in the back of the room
to hear him. The undercurrent of whispered conversations often
present at addresses was missing. The only interruptions being
the ring of cell phones, and generally those getting the calls
simply turned their phones off rather than miss what Mr. Gates
The U.S. has "no inherent" advantage in terms of personal
character towards keeping its economy dominant, Mr. Gates said.
Where it did have a major advantage was in the quality of its
universities and overall education, he said. Where top
universities are located is where new companies dealing with the
biosciences and other high technology projects will locate he
Having topflight universities also presents an advantage in
drawing intellectual talent to the U.S., he said. Being an "IQ
magnet is a self-enforcing thing" because brilliant people want
to be with other brilliant people.
While the U.S. still has an advantage in its universities, other
countries, particularly India and China are catching up, and
that is a worry, he said.
Another concern is that since the terrorist attacks of September
11, 2001, it is getting harder for highly talented individuals
to come into the U.S., and that could have an economic effect in
the long term, he said.
Asked what will be more important to economic development,
education or low taxes, Mr. Gates said companies with
breakthrough technologies will "be far more sensitive to the
quality of the talent instead of to the tax policy."
California, he said, is a perfect example of a state that saw
huge growth in the high tech industries despite a relatively
unfavorable tax climate.
He acknowledged that taxes could play a greater role in
manufacturing and other industries he knows little about.
But overall the need for research and development, and their
requirement for educational strength, trumps other issues in a
state, he said.
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