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NYS Comptroller

THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI

Taxpayers' Guide to State and Local Audits

New York City Administration for Children's Services
Health and Safety of Children in Foster Care


Issued: March 9, 2018
Link to full audit report 2016-N-2
Link to 90-day response


Purpose
To determine whether the New York City Administration for Children's Services (ACS) takes sufficient steps to ensure the health and safety of the children placed in foster care. The audit covers New York City children who were in foster care during the period of July 1, 2014 through August 31, 2016.

Background
ACS is responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of New York City children who have been placed in foster care – voluntarily or involuntarily. In foster care, the general rule is to place the child in the least restrictive, most family-like environment appropriate to the child's needs. Consequently, placement is generally either in kinship homes (relatives) or with foster parents selected by not-for-profit, community-based voluntary agencies. For the period of July 1, 2014 through August 31, 2016, ACS contracted with 32 such agencies and reimbursed them for the care provided to the children. Agency case planners (including case workers) are required to conduct regular contact visits to foster children and their foster parents. The resulting interactions and observations are required to be documented as progress notes in CONNECTIONS – a statewide system for collecting and recording child welfare information. Also, both ACS and the agencies are required to complete Family Assessment Service Plans (FASPs) for each foster child. The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) provides technical support and supervision to the State's 58 local social services districts. OCFS, with the support of the New York State Office of Information Technology Services, maintains CONNECTIONS.

Key Findings
For the period of July 1, 2014 through August 31, 2016, we reviewed case files for a sample of 48 foster children and their foster parents to determine if required contact (face-to-face) visits were conducted and if progress notes were recorded in CONNECTIONS in a timely manner. Based on our review, we found:

  • ACS lacked controls to ensure that agencies complied with their contractual obligation to conduct visits and record them timely. Moreover, technical problems with CONNECTIONS, such as the lack of sign-off and approval capabilities and reminders of past-due progress notes, may decrease accountability and delay the recording of progress notes.
  • CONNECTIONS does not have sufficient case monitoring tools to allow ACS staff to readily identify cases where required visits are not being made and when progress notes are not being entered timely.
  • There was no evidence that all required contact visits were conducted and that progress notes were recorded in CONNECTIONS in a timely manner. For example, for our sample of 48 foster children and their foster parents, we found that the required two contact visits per month to 30 of the foster children (63 percent) and 36 of the foster parents (75 percent) were not conducted during the first 90 days after placement. In addition, there is no evidence that 16 of the foster children (33 percent) and 18 of the foster parents (38 percent) were visited, as required, after the initial 90 days.
  • ACS has not established a standard for how timely progress notes should be entered in CONNECTIONS. Instead, ACS defers to the OCFS standard of “contemporaneously,” which is a recommended maximum of 30 days. However, we noted that the five contracted agencies in our sample required their employees to enter progress notes within 3 to 15 days of a contact visit. Consequently, using 15 days as a benchmark, we determined that, for the 48 foster children and their foster parents, 92 of the 352 progress notes for the first 90 days (26 percent) and 151 of the 732 progress notes (21 percent) for the period thereafter were entered more than 15 days
    late. Using the 30-day recording period, 56 of the 352 progress notes (16 percent) for the first 90 days exceeded the 30-day benchmark, and 54 of the 732 progress notes (7 percent) for the period thereafter were entered more than 30 days late.
  • Initial and comprehensive follow-up FASPs, which assess the functions and needs of foster children and their foster families, were often completed late. For example, initial FASPs for 18 of the 45 children were completed after the required 30 days, and comprehensive FASPs for 22 of the 45 children were completed after the required 90-day period.
  • In our review of progress notes for cases under investigation due to alleged abuse or maltreatment, we found reference to a previous complaint accusing the foster parent of abuse. ACS investigated and informed us that despite this being referenced in its own report, it appeared without merit, as “there is no record of any complaint to the State Central Register or elsewhere, and the factual details do not match the composition of the home in 2015.” However, even if the allegation was erroneous, it is concerning that such a serious allegation would appear in an official case summary without any evidence to support it.

Key Recommendations

  • Ensure that agencies conduct the minimum required casework contact visits with foster children and their foster parents during the initial placement period and throughout the children's placement in foster care.
  • Establish a time frame for agencies to complete and enter progress notes related to case planners' contact visits, and ensure that agencies are complying with this requirement.
  • Include compliance with case planners' contact visit requirements and the timeliness of progress notes as factors in an agency’s scorecard metrics.
  • Work with OCFS to improve CONNECTIONS' thus allowing for improved case management.

Other Related Audit/Report of Interest

Office of Children and Family Services: Oversight of Critical Foster Care Program Requirements (2015-S-79)


State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Kenrick Sifontes
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email: StateGovernmentAccountability@osc.state.ny.us
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236