The Connecticut Department of Children and Families has delayed recording case narratives and delayed conducting reviews into child abuse and neglect reports, according to an audit report by the State Auditors of Public Accounts released yesterday, which also found that the department had failed to adequately oversee companies providing services to the children and families.
The audit found that in the years 2016, 2017 and 2018 – the most recent years subject to the review – staffing shortages and a lack of monitoring procedures and controls had resulted in these errors.
In reply to the findings, the department said that problems had since been fixed.
Workers at the department are required to upload reports about legal cases, medical and mental health, juvenile justice and other activities related to families’ and childrens’ cases into the state child welfare information system within five days of an event happening.
The audit, however, found that nearly 80 percent of all reports were not entered within five days. According to the audit, not having this information available could cause inaccuracy and lead to decisions being made about cases when not all the information is up-to-date.
Additionally, when the agency commissioner finds that a child has been abused or neglected, the person found responsible is notified and allowed to appeal. If they ask for an appeal, the commissioner must then conduct an internal review of the findings to ensure they are correct.
However, the auditors found that in about a quarter of cases, that internal review was not conducted within the prescribed 30-day limit, which may have required a higher number of administrative hearings to review the cases.
The department responded that these findings were a matter of inadequate staffing, which department officials say they have addressed.
“There has been a dramatic reduction in caseload size due to increased staffing of social workers,” the response read. The department also said it had improved technology so that DCF workers could access the system remotely. In the past 18 months, the department said, their reviews “indicated a very high degree of document compliance with agency expectation.”
Additionally, the department said that it had accelerated its internal review process.
“The Legal division staff are now the primary reviewers, and the number of timely reviews should continue to increase,” the agency said. “This revision … has removed an unnecessary layer of approval which previously added to the length of time for completion of reviews.”
Failure to monitor child placements and private providers
Other findings were related to the department’s contracting with private service providers. These providers are also required to give the department “outcome reports” on their work.
But according to the audit, seven out of the ten reports that the auditors reviewed did not include all of the necessary information about whether the private providers had fulfilled the expectations under the contract. In nine of those ten cases, there was no documentation to prove that the department had looked at the outcome reports.
The department spent a total of $41.2 million on the ten contracts that the auditors reviewed.
The department said in its response that it had changed its process for reviewing contracts to so that reviews were conducted under one central body.
“Beginning in SFY 2019, the responsible for review and reconciliation … was assumed by the Division of Contracts Management, allowing for the development of Year End Review procedures and completion of a comprehensive Year End Financial Review process,” the department wrote.
In further findings, auditors reported that the department had failed to follow rules for placements of children with emotional disturbances who are in need of intensive, clinical care, known as Therapeutic Foster Care. When more than one child with these needs is placed in the same home, the department requires a waiver. More than two children with these needs are not supposed to be placed in the same home.
Yet the audit found that seven of twenty-five children placed in a home with another child needing intensive services had no waiver, and that there were 12 instances where three children, all with intensive needs, were living in the same home.
“DCF is not adequately monitoring the child placing agencies responsible for overseeing the placement and care of TFC children,” the audit read.
The department spent over $80 million in 2016, 2017 and 2018 on Therapeutic Foster Care.
“The agency has regularly addressed provider performance issues and the lack of adherence to the scope of service for this service type,” the agency responded, adding that their new model would “also make it apparent if a family has more children placed at the home than is prescribed by the model.”