Auditors find gaps in monitoring of foster children

Agency placed children with providers accused of abuse or neglect

March 25, 2011|By Meredith Cohn, The Baltimore Sun

State officials placed at least 32 children in foster homes despite credible evidence that the care providers had abused or neglected children, according to a General Assembly audit released Friday.

Auditors found that officials with the Social Services Administration also failed to follow up on 159 children born to parents who had had their parental rights terminated for abuse or neglect.

The auditors blamed the computer system that the Maryland agency uses to monitor child services and said many of the deficiencies had not been corrected. The audit was conducted by the Office of Legislative Audits, the investigative arm of the Assembly.

Carnitra D. White, executive director of the Social Services Administration, said Friday that some of the auditors' most serious findings resulted from a legal interpretation or a "paperwork issue" and that "we found no evidence of harm to children."

She said the large and complex system has been improved since the reporting period.

Auditors said the Children's Electronic Social Services Information Exchange, or "Chessie," provided "incomplete and unreliable" information between July 2007 and January 2010, the period under review.

Rolled out in 2006 after 10 years of planning, Chessie was supposed to help Social Services officials better track Maryland's foster children, who now number 7,000. But glitches quickly surfaced. A 2008 audit also found problems with the system.

Among the findings of the audit released Friday:

•Six foster care providers were caring for 32 children even though there was credible evidence of abuse and neglect before or during the placement.

•There were many discrepancies over abuse and neglect allegations between the Social Services Administration and officials in the jurisdictions it serves and the local information was more accurate.

•There was no documentation of required annual medical exams in the records of nine of 17 foster care children investigated.

•The state agency couldn't say what foster care group homes had done with $800,000 in overpayments.

White said local directors had re-evaluated the potentially abusive or neglectful foster parents and signed off on them but did not submit forms to the state or the state didn't log the form. She said each case has since been investigated and the paperwork submitted.

White said the Social Services Administration is seeking a legal opinion from the office of Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler on the parents who had lost their parental rights. Agency officials believe a law passed last year allows them to monitor only parents who have lost custody of their children since 2010.

Child care advocates criticized that loophole last year after the death of a baby whose mother had lost custody of her other children years before. The woman pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter after the baby's body was found buried in Druid Hill Park.

White said the agency is doing its own audit to address the overpayments. In general, she said, the agency is working to ensure that its data is accurate and timely.

Through June 2010, federal and state sources had spent about $90 million to develop and operate Chessie, according to the auditors.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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