State moves to suspend foster child placements with Hyattsville company

Contemporary Family Services failed to document that homes met state standards

January 31, 2012|By Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun

Maryland's second-largest foster care provider failed to track background checks, training and other requirements for its foster parents, putting the children at risk, according to state officials who are moving to suspend new placements in its homes.

Ian Patrick Hines, spokesman for the Department of Human Resources, which oversees foster care and adoptions in Maryland, confirmed that Hyattsville-based Contemporary Family Services, which has 232 parents and 157 foster children in its network, was notified of a pending sanction last week and that the agency's inspector general is investigating.

Hines also said the state agency is reviewing the death of a child last week in one of Contemporary Family Services' contracted foster homes. Hines said that the death did not prompt the sanction and that the agency would review any death as a matter of routine.

Last year, the state agency launched a separate examination of the company's finances, which prompted the state to stop placements in the company's foster homes for nine months.

According to correspondence with Contemporary Family Services, the state agency raised red flags about independent audit findings, including that company money was used to pay personal expenses for executives, as well as the company's significant federal tax liability. The company recently agreed to a payment plan to cover $2.8 million in back taxes and fees owed to the IRS.

John L. Monroe, executive director of Contemporary Family Services, said that the company has reassessed its foster parents as required but that the paperwork wasn't in order. He also blames the administrative and financial problems on former employees and said that he's working to repair the damage.

"We are moving forward," Monroe said. "We're doing God's work and moving a lot of negative energy out of here."

Sanctions against foster care companies are "not routine," and revoking the contract would be an unusual step, Hines said, because the agency is concerned with causing more turmoil in the lives of foster children. The agency warned Contemporary Family Services that failure to correct violations could result in it losing its license and the foster children being moved to other settings.

"We're looking at all of our options," Hines said.

Contemporary Family Services can appeal the sanction in administrative law court. The company, which has about 50 employees and was founded in 1997, is up for its two-year state license renewal in March.

More than 9,000 children lived in foster care homes in Maryland in 2009, according to the Department of Human Resources website. Many of the children have been abused or neglected, or exposed to domestic violence or substance abuse. Companies like Contemporary Family Services act as intermediaries, contracting with the state and placing children referred by the state in homes. Many of the children the company places in homes are from Baltimore City and Prince George's County.

State officials accuse the company of failing to document annual re-certification for some of its homes, according to a Jan. 24 letter written by Darlene Ham, interim executive director of the agency's Office of Licensing and Monitoring. As part of those certifications, the company is required to document that the foster parent is qualified, a process that includes criminal background checks, proof of homeowner's and auto insurance and first-aid training.

"The administration has … determined that you have not acted to protect the health, safety and well-being of your agency's foster children from the special risk arising from living outside their homes by your failure to document timely reassessments," Ham wrote.

That letter notified Contemporary Family Services that the latest moratorium on new referrals for foster care placements would last at least 60 days, and the company is expected to devise a corrective action plan. The sanction will take effect in mid-February.

Monroe confirmed that a child in one of the company's contracted foster homes in Glen Burnie died last week. He said the child had suffered a severe asthma attack and had heart problems. The deceased child was born to a teen mother who was placed in foster care by the company, he said.

A former worker, who asked not to be identified for fear she could jeopardize future employment, said the child lived in the 100 block of Wells Avenue. Authorities responded to a call for a 3-year-old child in cardiac arrest in that block after 7 a.m. Wednesday and transferred the child to Baltimore Washington Medical Center, Arundel County Fire Department division chief Michael Cox said.

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