The California Department of Social Services (Social Services) is responsible for protecting the health and safety of vulnerable populations—such as children, adults, and seniors—in the care facilities it licenses (licensed facilities). Its Caregiver Background Check Bureau (CBCB) is responsible for evaluating the character of individuals with criminal records who apply to have access to a licensed facility, such as employees or volunteers. To decide whether it will grant an individual an exemption that will allow him or her to be present in a facility, the CBCB receives criminal history information from the California Department of Justice (Justice) as well as other information related to the individual’s character. For this audit, we reviewed how well Social Services and Justice fulfill their roles in the background check process. This report draws the following conclusions:
Justice and other state departments do not send Social Services certain information it needs to protect vulnerable clients.
In 2016 Justice stopped providing Social Services sentencing information because state law does not explicitly require that it share this information. It also did not forward information about certain convictions because it believed it was not authorized to share that information. However, this information is valuable for Social Services in deciding whether to allow an individual with a criminal history to be present in a licensed facility, known as an exemption decision. In addition, Social Services and four other state departments do not promptly share information with one another about the administrative actions they take against individuals. This is, in part, because their interagency agreements lack specificity about when to share this information. As a result, Social Services cannot be assured that it receives the information its needs to protect vulnerable populations. Further, Social Services was not always timely in evaluating whether an individual who received an administrative action from another department should be allowed to remain present in a facility Social Services licenses.
Social Services does not always obtain or review all appropriate information before allowing individuals access to facilities.
Social Services’ policies inappropriately direct staff to ignore convictions for relatively minor crimes known as infractions and assume that, if Social Services does not have an individual’s criminal history self disclosure form, then the individual does not have any convictions. These practices result in Social Services allowing individuals with unreviewed criminal histories to be present in licensed facilities. In addition, we reviewed 18 background check case records and found that in 17 of these cases the CBCB’s staff did not consider all required information when they granted or denied exemptions. Further, we believe Social Services could better protect clients in licensed facilities if the Legislature amended state law to add additional crimes to the current list of crimes for which Social Services cannot issue an individual an exemption to be present in a facility (nonexemptible crimes).
Justice does not always provide Social Services with criminal history information within the 14 day time frame required by state law. Further, Justice has incomplete criminal history information because it is not receiving all arrest and conviction information from the courts and law enforcement agencies. As a result, Social Services’ background checks can be delayed or may not consider an individual’s complete criminal history. In addition, we found that Social Services had significant delays—some of which are within its control—when processing exemptions, conducting investigations of individuals who have been arrested but not convicted (arrest only cases), and pursuing legal actions against individuals. Such delays could potentially subject individuals who are not a risk to the health and safety of vulnerable populations to unreasonable delays before beginning employment. Finally, Social Services has not developed a consistent approach to verifying that individuals it determined were a risk to vulnerable populations have left licensed facilities. Therefore, in four of the six immediate exclusion cases we reviewed, Social Services did not conduct a site visit to determine whether the individual had actually left the facility.
Summary of Recommendations
The Legislature should amend state law to require Justice to send Social Services all necessary information for making exemption decisions. It should also expand the list of crimes that are considered nonexemptible and require that Social Services wait for California and out‑of‑state criminal histories before granting an individual access to a licensed facility. Finally, it should require Social Services and the four other departments it has interagency agreements with to provide each other information about administrative actions they take against individuals.
By July 2017, Justice should analyze and implement changes to its process to ensure that it sends Social Services criminal history information within the 14‑day time frame required by state law.
Social Services should amend the interagency agreements it has with other state departments to specify that the departments should share their administrative action information as soon as possible after the action is final but no more than five business days after the end of the month in which the action became final. Social Services should begin amending its interagency agreements by July 2017. It should also establish time frames for staff to evaluate individuals with administrative actions from other departments and monitor itself against those expectations.
Social Services should immediately require its exemption analysts to evaluate all infraction convictions, other than minor traffic violations, before granting exemptions to individuals and should obtain copies of all criminal history self‑disclosure forms.
The CBCB should immediately ensure that its background check case files support its exemption decisions by including complete decision summaries and all required supporting documents.
By July 2017, Social Services should develop goals for how quickly its staff should process exemption requests and pursue legal actions, and it should monitor itself against these goals. Further, it should immediately follow its arrest‑only policies and monitor against the associated time frames. In addition, it should revise its policy to require that staff perform site visits to the licensed facilities after Social Services issues an exclusion order and verify that the new policy is followed.
Social Services and Justice generally agreed with our recommendations. However, Social Services disagreed with our recommendation that it should review all infraction convictions, other than minor traffic violations, as it is required to do by state law. Social Services stated that it was neither feasible nor effective to do so. Justice did not indicate whether it agreed with our recommendation to consider trends in the number of arrest reports each law enforcement agency sends it and to request agencies forward all required arrest information. Instead, Justice asserted that it is not currently charged with enforcing reporting requirements and it does not have the resources to ensure timely reporting of the required information.