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Audit: DCS workers looted foster kids’ accounts

 

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2009/jun/18/audit-dcs-workers-looted-foster-kids-accounts/?partner=RSS

Janell Ross, THE TENNESSEAN

Originally published 06:55 a.m., June 18, 2009

Updated 06:55 a.m., June 18, 2009

NASHVILLE — State employees stole from foster children’s savings accounts, skipped calls and e-mails to teens transitioning out of foster care and submitted mileage reports for trips to and from work, an audit released this week found.

But those familiar with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services’ history say the audit shines a light on just how far a once-chaotic agency has come. Eight years ago, it was restructured in a settlement of the so-called “Brian A.” case, a federal class-action civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of Tennessee’s abused and neglected children.

“In broad strokes, it was really a dangerously dysfunctional system,” said Ira Lustbader, the associate director of Children’s Rights, the New York-based child advocacy organization that helped to bring the suit in 2000 and to monitor the state’s performance since.

See full story on The Tennessean below:

 

Children’s Services workers looted foster kids’ accounts

 

 

Audit finds progress, but problems persist

 

http://www.tennessean.com/article/20090618/NEWS0201/906180349/Children+s+Services+workers+looted+foster+kids++accounts

By Janell Ross • THE TENNESSEAN • June 18, 2009

State employees stole from foster children’s savings accounts, skipped calls and e-mails to teens transitioning out of foster care and submitted mileage reports for trips to and from work, an audit released this week found.

But those familiar with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services’ history say the audit shines a light on just how far a once-chaotic agency has come. Eight years ago, it was restructured in a settlement of the so-called “Brian A.” case, a federal class-action civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of Tennessee’s abused and neglected children.

“In broad strokes, it was really a dangerously dysfunctional system,” said Ira Lustbader, the associate director of Children’s Rights, the New York-based child advocacy organization that helped to bring the suit in 2000 and to monitor the state’s performance since.

He said the audit shows a basically functioning agency with the need for more fiscal controls.

The department and its 5,000 employees are charged with managing a $690 million budget and caring for children in state custody or at risk of abuse.

“We take audits very seriously,” said Viola Miller, the Department of Children’s Services commissioner.

“Nobody loves them, but we are going to use these as opportunities to learn to identify areas that we need to make improvements.”

State comptroller’s office auditors reviewing the period between April 2006 and October 2008 found a number of problems inside the agency.

The audit indicated there were instances of employee theft from interest-earning accounts that belong to children in state custody who work. Joe Holzmer, executive director of finance and program support, said the department asked auditors for details, but they were unable to provide any.

While such incidents are rare, there have been a few internal investigations dealing with similar matters, Miller said.

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The audit also found social workers assigned to older children transitioning from state custody to adulthood were not visiting them as frequently as department rules require — once every two months, plus contact by phone or e-mail once per month. When auditors sampled 25 such cases, they found 20 had not received required visits or contact.

The social workers are supposed to help with housing, job placement, utility hookups and other adult responsibilities.

That’s a vital job, said Linda O’Neal, director of the Tennessee Commission on Youth and Children, a state advocacy agency.

“Obviously, this is one of the areas where the department is not where we would want it to be and not where I think they want it to be,” she said.

“But much like the effort to reduce child abuse, it is the sort of thing that is going to require the whole state to get involved.”

Tax money misusedThe audit also pointed to three departmental matters affecting the state’s taxpayers.

Joel Player, a department employee, improperly requested and was paid for $14,127 in travel, hotel, parking and taxi fares, according to the audit. That included mileage to and from work and taxi fares accrued on business trips on days that he also requested reimbursement for his parked car.

After the audit and an internal investigation, a letter of reprimand was placed in the file of Player’s supervisor, Mark Anderson. Player must repay the $14,127. He didn’t return a call placed to his office Wednesday afternoon.

“These are good people who admitted what had happened, made no attempt to hide it, but really it seems just misunderstood the policy,” Miller said.

The audit also identified as many as 446 possibly unused but in-service telephone lines that may cost the department as much as $7,000 a month. The agency has since identified and disconnected 211 unused phone lines, said Rob Johnson, the agency spokesman.

Finally, money from two closed petty cash accounts could not be found or recovered. The two accounts should have contained a combined $650.

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2 Comments

  1. How can they do this to these poor innocent children? This is absolutely horrible!

    • DA & SA
    • Posted November 25, 2009 at 12:44 pm
    • Permalink

    We continue to see grevious violations of their own policies and stautes and are conveniently used to suit taking monies from families struggling to take care of their kids.


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