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
Oversight of Residential Domestic Violence Programs


Issued: April 24, 2018
Link to full audit report 2017-S-16
Link to 90-day response

Purpose
To determine whether the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) is maintaining adequate oversight of residential programs for victims of domestic violence to ensure these programs are operating in compliance with applicable laws, rules, and regulations. Our audit covered the period January 1, 2015 through October 20, 2017.

Background
OCFS’ Division of Child Welfare and Community Services (CWCS) oversees the Office of Prevention, Permanency and Program Support at the OCFS Central Office, which is tasked with the licensing and oversight of domestic violence (DV) programs in New York State. Central Office oversees six Regional Offices throughout the State. While Central Office carries out the licensing, the Regional Offices conduct the various inspection functions (certification, re-certification, monitoring, and complaint) and provide oversight of residential and non-residential DV programs in the State.

In 2016, 11,338 individuals (includes adults and children) were admitted to a residential DV program. DV programs are run by various not-for-profit agencies across the State. During our audit period, there were 95 residential DV programs in New York State that operated 162 DV residences.

Key Findings

  • Based on the amount and quality of information provided by OCFS, we determined OCFS Central Office does not maintain adequate oversight of DV residences. For example, OCFS was unable to provide the audit team with all program and fire safety inspection reports for our scope period. OCFS also provided inconsistent information on applicable policies and procedures. For example, in response to our preliminary findings, OCFS officials asserted that regulations do not require program and fire safety inspections at individual safe dwellings operated by sponsoring agencies. However, throughout the audit, officials provided policies and procedures clearly showing that inspections of individual safe dwellings are required. OCFS also provided conflicting criteria for inspecting DV residences, asserting that the yearly inspection time frame was not in place for our entire audit period. However, the different inspection time frames were not presented to the auditors until more than four months after the start of our audit. Additionally, throughout our audit, OCFS officials also provided us with various forms of evidence showing the program and fire safety inspections were required yearly. It is unclear if the contradictory information provided so late in the audit process was due to OCFS officials’ lack of knowledge, understanding, and oversight of basic program operations, or an attempt by OCFS officials to diminish our audit findings and mask their lack of oversight.
  • OCFS would not allow auditors to access either the Domestic Violence Information System or SharePoint; both systems, according to OCFS officials, are used to monitor DV programs. Due to the length of time it took OCFS to provide us with inspection reports, coupled with the manner in which the reports were provided, access to these systems became critical to verify the reliability of the information provided.
  • We conducted a risk assessment that was limited due to OCFS’ delays in providing information. From our limited risk assessment, we found that the 53 DV residences we visited were in adequate condition. However, based on an analysis of information received after our initial site visits, we identified information that would have affected our risk assessment. Our analysis of this newly provided information showed some instances of more serious issues than in the earlier information. Therefore, we question whether we would have found more serious issues had all reports been made available during our risk assessment.
  • OCFS officials placed constraints on our audit, including delays in and denial of access to records needed to evaluate the effectiveness of their oversight. As a result, there is considerable risk that material information concerning OCFS’ oversight of DV programs was withheld from us. This, in addition to the contradictory information OCFS officials provided, raises serious concerns about the adequacy of OCFS’ oversight of the DV program.

Key Recommendations

  • Develop a centralized method for tracking and maintaining all DV program information.
  • Develop procedures to ensure consistency in reporting across all regions.
  • Develop procedures for monitoring the Regional Offices’ oversight of residential DV programs and each of their respective residences.
  • Formally assess the adequacy of the internal control environment at OCFS, and take necessary steps to ensure the control environment is adequate, including cooperation with authorized State oversight inquiries.

Agency Response
In response to the draft report, OCFS officials stated they strongly reject our “erroneous” conclusions. In part, officials argued that they were not required by New York Codes, Rules and Regulations to perform certain visits and inspections. However, in adopting this stance, OCFS officials are overlooking their own internal policies and procedures, which auditors used to assess compliance. Also, OCFS disagrees with our recommendation to formally assess its internal control environment and cooperate more fully with OSC’s inquiries. Officials state they have a strong record of complying with internal control verifications, and cannot implement this recommendation because doing so could result in a violation of federal and State confidentiality laws. However, OSC auditors did not ask OCFS for access to information that would violate any federal or State confidentiality laws. In fact, the audit team worked tirelessly with OCFS to create agreements on how to treat confidential data and perform site visits to DV shelters to ensure confidentiality.

Our recommendation also states that OCFS should take necessary steps to ensure the control environment is adequate, which was not addressed in OCFS’ response. Organizational structure and accountability relationships are key factors in the control environment. As shown throughout this report, OCFS officials hindered auditors’ progress in obtaining independent, reliable information for this audit, not only by restricting access to pertinent information that affected our audit risk assessment and conclusions, but also by presenting us with contradictory information, which delayed the audit, impacted our risk assessment, and further raised questions about the adequacy of OCFS’ oversight. It should be noted that a previous OSC audit (Report 2015-S-79, Oversight of Critical Foster Care Program Requirements, issued July 2017) similarly found that OCFS overlooked its own internal policies and demonstrated a weak agency control environment. We remark now, as we did then, that OCFS is responsible for the safety, permanency, and well-being of many of society’s most vulnerable people – a duty that requires a disciplined control environment and commitment to accountability and transparency. OCFS’ inadequate cooperation with the audit and its defensive and dismissive response are not indicative of an appropriate agency control environment, particularly given the vulnerable population OCFS must protect. Consequently, we urge OCFS to reconsider its position relating to the audit’s findings and recommendations with a focus to better enable OCFS to fulfill its vital mission.

We also note that OCFS’ response includes multiple misleading and/or inaccurate statements. Our rejoinders to those comments are included in the report’s State Comptroller’s Comments, which are embedded in OCFS’ response.

Other Related Audits/Reports of Interest
Office of Children and Family Services: Oversight of Critical Foster Care Program Requirements (2015-S-79)
Homeless Shelters and Homelessness in New York State (2016-D-3)


State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Brian Reilly
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