December 3, 2013 12:35PM
By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD — The Connecticut Department of Children and Families couldn’t prove to federal auditors that it performed required background checks for numerous prospective foster or adoptive families whose subsidy payments were claimed for federal reimbursement in 2009 and 2010, potentially putting thousands of children at risk, according to an Office of Inspector General report obtained by The Associated Press.
The state’s child welfare office, however, contends that background checks were conducted and most of the missing records were later located after the audit was completed.
Of 291 sampled records reviewed by auditors, DCF could not provide any evidence of checks for 50. For 135, DCF had inadequate evidence of required checks, including state and national criminal records, child abuse and neglect registry checks, according to the report.
In one case cited by federal auditors, DCF didn’t provide background check documentation for a child’s father, a known drug abuser, whose parental rights had been legally terminated but still lived in the child’s adoptive household. In another case, auditors said, there was no child abuse or neglect registry check documentation for an adoptive mother’s mother who lived in the household and whom DCF terminated as a foster parent because of medical neglect.
“On the basis of our sample results, we estimated that the safety of 2,862 of the 4,566 (63 percent) covered by our review may have been at risk,” the report said. “The state agency did not have adequate controls in place to ensure that the required background checks were completed for prospective foster and adoptive families and the documentation to support the required background checks was retained.”
The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s audit, to be released publicly today, covered nearly $49.5 million that DCF claimed for federal reimbursement of adoption assistance payments paid to families on behalf of 4,566 children during fiscal years 2009 and 2010. The office sampled 291 adoptee payment records totaling about $4 million and evaluated those for compliance with federal adoption assistance requirements.
Without the adequate background checks, the state is ineligible for federal adoption assistance payments. In their report, the auditors recommended that the state reimburse the federal government for nearly $17.5 million in “unallowable payments claimed without adequate documentation.” The auditors also recommended the agency strengthen and implement controls to ensure full compliance with financial and other eligibility requirements.
“When a state agency fails to maintain evidence of background checks, not only are federal funds at risk, but the safety of children placed in foster and prospective adoptive families may also be at risk,” the report said.
In a written statement, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz stressed that the federal audit period stemmed from a prior administration. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who appointed Katz, took office in 2010, succeeding former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
“The current administration has implemented changes to address the causes for the issues identified by the audit,” Katz said, adding that documentation regarding adoptions is now maintained electronically in a centralized data system. She said 70 percent of the missing records were located after the audit was completed and were added retroactively to the results.
“There is every indication that although not all records regarding background checks were found, background checks were in fact conducted,” Katz said. “Checklists maintained in the files showed the checks were conducted, although not all the documentation was retained.”
A DCF spokesman said the agency is working with HHS to resolve outstanding issues concerning the audit. The state agency anticipates a reduction in the $17.5 million the auditors said should be refunded.
According to the audit report, this isn’t the first time the Office of Inspector General has had issues with Connecticut’s DCF. A prior review of fiscal years 2002 through 2004 found the agency claimed federal reimbursement of adoption assistance payments to children who did not meet income eligibility guidelines. This was the first time the auditors reviewed compliance with the background check requirements.