Two state foster care contractors fail to follow safety requirements, auditors say

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Benchmark Family Services
Benchmark Family Services

Texas auditors found during a recent examination that some residential child care contractors demonstrated significant weaknesses in monitoring foster homes and obtaining required background checks for foster parents and others who visit the homes.

Benchmark Family Services, Inc. and Azleway, Inc. did not have proper processes for conducting background checks on employees, parents, household members, caregivers, and frequent visitors to foster homes, auditors found. The report said these two contractors were deficient in obtaining FBI fingerprint background checks, requesting background checks within required time frames, and tracking visitors to foster homes to ensure they conducted background checks in a timely manner.

Auditors designated a high rating for the issue, meaning if the weaknesses are not addressed promptly they could substantially affect the contractors’ ability to effectively administer programs. Such contractors receive money from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services for delivering goods and services, such as therapy, food, and shelter that promote the mental and physical well-being of children placed in their care.

In fiscal year 2016, the Department of Family and Protective Services received more than $428 million to provide services to 31,943 children in foster care.

Examiners found that Benchmark had not conducted criminal background checks on a handful of foster parents, but particularly problematic was Benchmark’s lack of checks on other individuals in foster homes. The issues noted by auditors include:

  • No criminal background checks were conducted on 16 household members, other caregivers, and frequent visitors.
  • No fingerprint background checks were conducted on 35 household members, other caregivers, and frequent visitors.
  • For 42 of the same types of visitors to foster homes, Benchmark did not receive results of initial background checks before those individuals entered the homes.

Overall, Benchmark had not conducted background checks on 12 percent of individuals reported as active in its homes between July 1, 2015, and March 31, 2017. Auditors also couldn’t determine whether 6 percent were cleared to be around children because fingerprint background checks had not been obtained.

Prompt checks proved to be an issue: Benchmark didn’t get the results of fingerprint background checks on two foster parents until 162 days after the date on which their home was approved to accept the placement of children, and some other background checks were conducted up to 1,169 days late.

In its response to the report, Benchmark wrote that it would work toward getting those required background checks in a more timely fashion.

“Benchmark Family Services will ensure that background checks, that are due within the next 60 days, are reviewed at the beginning of each month and that they are or have been submitted for processing,” the contractor wrote.

Benchmark, a nonprofit, received $8.7 million from the department in fiscal year 2016 to serve 1,091 children.

Azleway, the other nonprofit contractor found to have similar problems with background checks, served 875 children that year and received $6.8 million from the department.

Azleway did not conduct background checks of 22 percent of individuals involved in its foster homes, auditors found. Most of these were household members that were not parents. Checks were conducted up to 520 days late, auditors also found.

Auditors say Azleway also didn’t adequately track the start dates of individuals involved in its foster homes, which prevented examiners from determining whether initial background checks for 176 people were conducted in a timely manner.

“We agree with the concern,” Azleway wrote in its response, as it pledged to improve its procedures.

Benchmark also received a rating of high concern in the audit for significant weaknesses in its process for monitoring foster homes. Auditors said the contractor did not conduct monitoring visits for 18 of 29 foster homes tested (62 percent). Benchmark also does not conduct enough unannounced visits, auditors said.

At least once every quarter, state law requires providers to evaluate and document any changes in household members and frequent visitors, any major life change in the foster family, any change to foster homes’ emergency plans, and any challenging behaviors of the current children in the homes.

Benchmark said it had recently made significant changes to its policies and procedures, and added alerts to its data management system to ensure it will conduct required visits in the future.

The audit also said that, while Azleway, Inc. and Angels Wings Family Services, Inc. conducted the required quarterly visits, they need to improve their documentation of those visits.

Johnny Kampis can be reached at [email protected].

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