By NICK CAHILL courthousenews.com
SACRAMENTO (CN) – Thousands of foster children may have been exposed to sex offenders due to California’s failure to verify addresses of registered sex offenders, the state auditor says.
A blistering audit, released July 2, revealed breakdowns in the state’s Social Services Department, which may have allowed as many as 8,600 foster children to be placed near the workplace or home of a registered sex offender, due to a faulty method of cross-checking addresses.
The 31-page report also found that the state could save more than $100 million by paying private foster agencies the same rate as county agencies.
The audit found that for 21 months Social Services did address-comparisons on sex offenders who were recently registered or active and “incorrectly excluded” addresses from previous months.
Social Services failed to use the entire sex offender registry and may have unintentionally placed foster children in the same facility as sex offenders.
“This error could have prevented Social Services from promptly identifying registered sex offenders who may have been living or working in licensed facilities or foster homes during the 21 months in which it used this flawed methodology,” said State Auditor Elaine Howle.
Howle’s report was a follow-up to a 2011 audit in which she criticized Social Services for not using the sex offender registry. The follow-up report uncovered 216 cases of foster children coming into contact with sex offenders who lived, worked or were associated with foster care facilities between 2011 and 2014.
In one instance, a foster home caregiver knowingly allowed a registered sex offender to live in the facility while he was on parole. Investigation found that both the caregiver and the sex offender struck and abused one of the foster children.
The sex offender’s parole officer let him stay at the facility because she thought the foster children were actually his. Three foster children were removed from the facility after investigation.
In a response letter to Howle, Social Services Director Will Lightbourne said his agency has improved its safeguards to protect children.
“The department developed comprehensive processes to ensure a consistent and thorough approach to evaluate and investigate addresses of RSOs [registered sex offenders] as matched against all state and county licensed facilities,” Lightbourne wrote.
The audit credits Social Services with improving its address checking process, but says it failed to implement cost-saving recommendations from the 2011 audit, involving reimbursement rates for private caregivers.
The audit reiterated that private foster agencies receive considerably higher compensation rates than county foster homes and that the department could save $116 million over the next five years if it adjusts the pay structure.
Howle blasts the department for its decision to wait until 2017 to revise its rate structure.
“Social Services is causing counties to continue to pay rates that do not have adequate justification,” the audit states.
Howle recommends that the state improve its mechanism to track and monitor addresses of registered sex offenders and require counties to give licensed foster homes higher priority over family-run foster homes.
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