Office of Children and Family Services

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NYS Comptroller

THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI

Taxpayers' Guide to State and Local Audits

Office of Children and Family Services
Financial Oversight of the Advantage After School Program


Issued: February 13, 2018
Link to full audit report 2016-S-39
Link to 90-day response

Purpose
To determine whether the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) has adequate controls in place to ensure that money provided to selected community organizations is spent in accordance with program guidelines and whether these controls are functioning as intended. The audit covers the period November 15, 2012 through December 13, 2016.

Background
New York State created the Advantage After School Program (Program) in 2000 to provide high-quality youth development opportunities to school-age children and youth during the hours directly after school. Research indicates that children who participate in quality after-school programs have higher school attendance and academic achievement, and are less likely to be involved in risky behaviors during after-school hours. The Program offers educational, recreational, and cultural age-appropriate activities and encourages active participation among children, youth, and parents in the design and delivery of activities. Providers must describe how they will meet program outcomes and target measures. Providers must also provide an annual budget and their Maximum Average Daily Attendance (MADA), which is defined as the maximum number of children expected to be served in the Program on any day during the year. OCFS administers the Program through its Division of Child Care Services’ Advantage After School Program Unit. As of September 1, 2016, OCFS had contracts with 137 providers to operate programs at 176 sites serving about 17,000 children and youth across the State. State funding for the Program was $19.3 million and $22.3 million in State fiscal years 2015-16 and 2016-17, respectively.

Key Finding

  • We found that OCFS has some appropriate controls to limit Program contract spending, including a maximum cost per child of $1,375 and a maximum allowable contract budget, which is calculated by multiplying providers’ MADAs by the $1,375 maximum per child. OCFS reimbursements to Program providers did not exceed the maximum contract budget. However, there is a risk that providers can exceed the maximum cost per child if they serve significantly fewer children than their MADA but do not reduce their expenditures proportionally. If the attendance we observed at selected providers during a sample time period was typical of the contract period, the expenditures per child on five contracts ranged from $1,981 to $5,332.

Key Recommendation

  • Use available information, such as average attendance on quarterly reports, contract expenditure data, and attendance reviewed during Program Manager visits, to identify contracts with an increased risk of exceeding the maximum cost per child and/or serving significantly fewer children than their MADA. For contracts with increased risk, implement steps to monitor contract service levels and spending, and take appropriate corrective action, which may include redirecting future funds to other sites or providers.

Agency Response
In its response to the draft report, OCFS takes issue with our audit methodology and resulting findings; “partially agrees” with one of the two recommendations; and disagrees with the other one. Throughout its response, OCFS finds fault with our samples because they were not randomly selected and are not representative of the program as a whole, and incorrectly implies that random selection is the only valid sampling method. OCFS also states that the audit results “cannot and should not be used to form a statistically valid conclusion regarding the entire population.” OCFS’ objections are baseless for two reasons. First, selecting samples based on assessed risk is an acceptable and appropriate sampling methodology, permitted under generally accepted government auditing standards with which this audit complied. We intentionally selected the sample of 17 contracts based on risks we assessed, which we describe in our report. Second, our report does not state that our sample is representative of, or applicable to, the contract population, nor do we project findings across the population.

OCFS also states that our method to determine program attendance was flawed, and suggests we should have determined attendance by reviewing quarterly reports. However, the quarterly reports are self-reported by providers; as such, we believe reviewing on-site records at provider sites is a more reliable test.

Additionally, OCFS states that the Program does not tie contract funding to contractor attendance performance indicators. Yet this is the point of our finding: that by failing to consider MADA and/ or maximum cost per child, OCFS is not taking advantage of valuable information that can help it assess provider risk. Although OCFS limits a provider’s budget based on the established maximum cost per child of $1,375 and the provider’s estimated MADA, a provider can still exceed the per-child maximum if it serves significantly fewer children than the MADA. Providers who serve fewer children than proposed should have lower costs. However, some providers who serve a significantly lower number of children than their MADA do not have an associated decrease in expenditures. This raises the risk that State funds are not being used in an efficient manner and increases the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse. With limited resources, OCFS needs to focus its efforts based on risk. However, OCFS appears not to understand this approach, instead using its limited resources to focus on all providers regardless of risk, thereby reducing the resources available to monitor those at higher risk. For instance, OCFS states that it takes steps to verify reported attendance information and assist providers to maintain anticipated levels of attendance. However, OCFS did not provide any evidence of such steps for the five programs we identified as having attendance levels below 50 percent of the MADA during the period we tested, despite the fact that these providers were all at high risk related to attendance. Moreover, since an employee of a Program provider was recently convicted of submitting false claims for salary reimbursements under the Program, it is now imperative that OCFS evaluate the effectiveness of its current controls and take appropriate corrective action. Failure to do so may leave OCFS vulnerable to further fraudulent activities. 

Although OCFS disagrees with our first recommendation, it describes its contractor monitoring practices, which are generally consistent with our recommendation. OCFS agrees to implement our second recommendation, but questions the underlying findings. Our recommendation is based on internal control weaknesses in OCFS’ payment process.

Other Related Audits/Reports of Interest
State Education Department/Office of Children and Family Services/Office of Mental Health/ Department of Health: Cost Reporting of Programs Operated by Gateway-Longview, Inc. (2012-S-17)
State Education Department: Grant Payments to SCO Family of Services for the Extended School Day Program (2012-0052)


State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Steve Goss
Phone: (518) 474-3271; 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