By Christina Villacorte, Los Angeles Daily News
The county Department of Children and Family Services failed to provide about $1.8 million in child support and other payments owed to foster kids after they reached adulthood and left the system, according to a new audit released Thursday.
The department has also been sitting on $7.2 million in funds that were supposed to have been spent on behalf of foster kids, but were instead held in reserve. The agency is now required to come up with a plan to spend the money.
In a report to the county Board of Supervisors, Acting Auditor-Controller John Naimo said DCFS was first notified about the discrepancy back in 2002 but failed to correct it.
“DCFS needs to ensure Child Support Trust Fund monies are returned to former foster care children,” he wrote.
DCFS Director Philip Browning said in a letter that the department “generally agrees” with the recommendations and has taken “appropriate corrective actions.”
The California Department of Child Support Services collects child support payments from parents on behalf of foster kids, calculates how much should be used to offset foster care costs, and sends that amount to the DCFS.
If DCFS does not spend the entire sum, the remainder is placed in a trust fund for foster kids to collect upon leaving the system.
The audit discovered $1 million of the child support payments that went into the trust fund never reached their intended beneficiaries — 430 now-former foster kids. Some have been owed money since 1998.
“We’re working with the state and county’s child support agencies to review those cases and, upon identifying the children, reach out to them and disburse the money,” DCFS finance manager Rogelio Tapia said in an interview.
He added the bulk of the money remaining in the Child Support Trust Fund is likely to stay with the county, to offset already-incurred foster care costs. The rest are child support payments held for foster kids still in the system.
In addition to that $1 million, there is also $800,000 in interest earned on funds provided by the Social Security Administration that should have been provided to foster kids but was not.
“We are in the process of tabulating each and every child’s balance and interest,” Tapia said. “We’ll give it to the SSA and they’ll be the ones to send it to the children.”
He said the SSA should have the money by next month.
The audit also discovered $7.2 million in the Wraparound Program Trust Fund, created in 2005 to offset a shortfall in federal funding but rendered unnecessary by 2007.
DCFS is supposed to withdraw from the trust fund to pay for contracts with private, community-based agencies that operate the Wraparound Program.
These agencies provide housing, therapy, educational assistance and other services that allow foster kids to stay at the home of a relative, instead of foster care or group homes.
Tapia said DCFS has been withdrawing money from the trust fund for wraparound services over the years, but the costs were lower than expected. He said the department did not spend the surplus to maintain a buffer.
“We wanted to make sure a pot of money stayed in there, in case there’s a need above and beyond what we expected,” he said. “The department made a conscious effort to have a safeguard to ensure that our children are going to get the services they need.”
The audit, however, said DCFS should come up with a “proper course of action” for that balance. DCFS has agreed to comply.
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