Comptroller Stringer Audit Reveals that ACS Fails to Ensure Children are Placed in Fully Certified Foster Homes
ACS has no procedures to monitor the certification of foster homes before they receive foster children
81 percent of sampled certified foster homes eligible to take care of New York City foster children were missing evidence of mandated training, medical exams and TB screenings, and background checks
ACS’s limited reviews failed to uncover homes that were erroneously certified
Stringer calls on ACS to ensure foster care providers are not in operation without fully meeting agency standards
Comptroller Stringer released anauditof the Administration for Child Services (ACS), which found that the agency performs lackluster oversight of the foster system that leads to the improper certification of foster homes across New York City. The report found that 81 percent of sampled foster home files in Fiscal Years 2017 and 2018 were missing evidence of one or more certification requirements – such as mandated training, medical exams, background checks, and clearances. While ACS does review some foster home certifications, it does that only after children have already been placed in those homes and even then, the Comptroller’s audit found that nearly one-quarter of homes that ACS deemed compliant should not have been certified.
“Every child should grow up in a safe and supportive home, and high standards for children under the City’s care are non-negotiable,” said Comptroller Stringer. “But our audit shows that ACS’s lack of oversight enables a deficient foster care system, where children can be placed in homes that don’t measure up or meet their needs. What’s worse is that ACS is deflecting its responsibility to help ensure that foster homes are safe and supportive before a child even enters the picture. We have to do better for our youngest New Yorkers and ACS needs to immediately embrace meaningful change.”
While ACS contracts with providers to manage the process of certifying foster homes and to place and support children in foster care, ACS remains responsible for managing the foster care services – and is considered the temporary custodian of children in the foster programs. Potential foster parents and homes must meet various prerequisites set by the State Office of Children and Family Services to become a certified foster home including completing prescribed foster training, medical exams included a tuberculosis test, background clearances from the FBI and State, and a home study. Yet, ACS failed to help ensure that every foster home was fully and correctly certified to take care of children, before children were placed in their care.
In particular, Comptroller Stringer’s audit revealed that 89 (81 percent) of 110 sampled foster home files for Fiscal Year 2017 did not demonstrate that all required training, medical checks, background checks, and references were completed before the homes and families were certified to take care of children.
43 erroneously certified homes were missing multiple requirements.
Of the total 89 non-compliant homes uncovered, 80 had foster children residing in them – and more than half had been taking of care children without proper evidence of certification for hundreds of days.
In an in-depth review, the audit found that nearly half of these certified homes were missing evidence of mandatory training and/or medical clearances. Over a dozen certified homes were missing evidence that FBI or Statewide Central Register (SCR) clearance and/or references were obtained.
Examples of Certified Foster Homes Missing Crucial Checks
In one example, a foster home in the audit sample was missing the required medical and TB screenings along with a home study narrative – yet had fostered children since October 2013. Moreover, while the home’s most recent certification had expired on January 6, 2017, a child was still placed with the foster parent three months later (April 4, 2017) and resided there for nearly a year.
In another example, our office’s review of an ACS provider’s file for a certified foster family caring for three foster children revealed that it was missing medical clearances and TB screenings for four of the five household members who resided in the home, evidence of training, and references.
In a third example, a child was placed into an emergency kinship home and resided there for over a year while the home was out of compliance. Emergency kinship homes are required to undergo an emergency home study prior to the child’s placement and a full home study within 90 days after placement – yet the home study had not been completed at all for over 11 months after the child’s placement.
ACS Fails to Catch Errors in Its Own Audits
ACS performs annual audits of contracted providers’ foster family files only after children have been placed in the foster homes, and only for newly certified and first-time re-certified foster families, to assess whether the provider is placing children into certified homes and to alert ACS if there are any deficiencies with the certification process employed by the foster care provider.
However, Comptroller Stringer’s review found that ACS’s annual audits of foster family files are inadequate, poorly conducted, and do not provide appropriate oversight of the certification process. As a result, ACS’s audit findings in this area were found to be incorrect in roughly 24 percent of foster files reviewed. Moreover, ACS did not consistently ensure that deficiencies found in the agency’s own annual audits were corrected – and as such, 7 non-compliant homes found by ACS were allowed to continue operating for up to 484 days.
To address the lack of oversight and problems uncovered by the audit, Comptroller Stringer is calling on ACS to:
Develop a review process that ensures foster care providers do not certify prospective foster care families until the providers have collected the required evidence to demonstrate that the families have met the City and State’s requirements.
Set deadlines for providers to correct all deficiencies identified in the annual audits.
Implement procedures that require staff to follow-up on the annual audits to ensure that providers either correct all deficiencies identified in those audits or work with ACS to develop a plan to correct them.
Update and adhere to its audit methodology so that it checks for all documents required for a certification, includes all homes as part of its audit size, limits the advance notice it provides, independently confirms information about the foster family status of families selected for audit, and ensures that it selects the required number of families to audit.