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California State Auditor Report Number : 2015-502

Follow-Up—California Department of Social Services
Although Making Progress, It Could Do More to Ensure the Protection and Appropriate Placement of Foster Children

Audit Results

The California Department of Social Services Performs Regular Address Comparisons of Registered Sex Offenders, but Its Procedures Need Improvement

Findings from our follow‑up audit indicate that the California Department of Social Services (Social Services) has implemented our previous recommendation that it conduct regular address comparisons to determine whether registered sex offenders are inappropriately living or working in its licensed facilities or in the homes of foster children. An audit report we published in 2008 recommended that the California Department of Justice (Justice) and Social Services work together to allow Social Services to access Justice’s California Sex and Arson Registry (sex offender registry) for the purposes of performing these address comparisons.2 Our October 2011 audit found that, although Justice had granted Social Services access to this database, Social Services was not using the sex offender registry to perform the address comparisons because of resource constraints. Social Services did implement other measures, including checking the Megan’s Law website3, but none of these measures substitutes for full address comparisons for all registrants in Justice’s sex offender registry. Therefore, in October 2011 we again recommended that Social Services begin conducting regular address comparisons, using Justice’s sex offender registry and the addresses of licensed facilities and foster homes contained within its Licensing Information System and Child Welfare Services/Case Management System (CWS/CMS), respectively. One of the main purposes of this follow‑up audit was to review Social Services’ progress in implementing this recommendation and the impact of these address match investigations on safeguarding the health and safety of foster children.

Our current audit determined that in December 2011 Social Services began performing monthly address comparisons and has performed this process regularly since then. However, for nearly two years, Social Services had a significant deficiency in the methodology it used for the address comparisons. It discovered this deficiency in fall 2013 and immediately corrected it. Furthermore, although Social Services now performs regular address comparisons, as we previously recommended, we found that it does not adequately track the screening or disposition of all the address matches it identifies and does not document certain investigative procedures.

Social Services’ Address Match Investigations That We Reviewed Helped Keep Foster Children Safe

Social Services’ ongoing address comparisons and subsequent investigations have been important mechanisms for mitigating the risk that registered sex offenders might be living or working among foster children. Social Services’ monthly address comparisons identified nearly 25,000 potential instances of registered sex offenders living in or having some association with licensed facilities or foster homes during the three‑year period from December 2011 to December 2014, as shown in Table 1. Each month Social Services’ Technical Services Branch provides the potential address matches to the four department units to review, as described in the Introduction. Once received, each unit performs a preliminary screening process to eliminate potential address matches that do not require further investigation. Potential address matches can be eliminated for a variety of reasons, including when the registered sex offender is a client in the state‑licensed facility, when there are duplicate matches, or when a foster family home is closed or never opened because it did not proceed past the applicable stage of the approval process. If an address match cannot be eliminated through the screening process, an investigation will be conducted to determine if a sex offender is inappropriately residing or working in a licensed facility or foster home.

Table 1
California Sex and Arson Registry Addresses Matched and Investigated by the California Department of Social Services
December 2011 Through December 2014
Responsible Unit Facility Type Results of address match comparison Registered Sex Offender Status as a result of address match investigation Unaccounted Address Matches
Identified Reviewed Eliminated During Screening Process Not Associated With Facility Associated With Facility Investigations Overdue Total Was the unit able to reconcile its address Matches?*
Performance and Program Improvement Unit (performance unit) Foster homes approved by county child welfare services agencies 15,135 6,800 No data provided 6,667 133 422 7,913 No
Investigations Branch State-licensed children’s residential, adult and senior care, and child care facilities 8,484 8,315 8,071 174 70 - 169 Yes
Statewide Children’s Residential Program Office County-licensed foster family homes 1,254 659 473 175 11 - 595 No
Statewide Child Care Program Office County-licensed family child care homes 24 20 - 18 2 - 4 Yes

Sources: California State Auditor’s analysis of unaudited data from the California Department of Social Services (Social Services). Investigations data are from Social Services’ report titled Registered Sex Offender Address Match Project: Matching Process and Outcomes of Follow-up Investigations, April 2015. Address matching data are from Social Services’ Technical Services Branch.

* In April 2015 we requested that each unit reconcile its number of identified address matches with its number of address matches reviewed.

The performance unit provided investigations data from December 2011 to October 2014.

The performance unit’s total includes foster homes in which no child is placed and inactive foster homes.

Of the nearly 25,000 potential address matches, Social Services could not initially provide documentation for more than 8,600 to demonstrate that any outcomes had been reached. Moreover, investigations for more than 400 potential address matches were more than 45 days past due. We discuss these two issues in greater detail later in the report. For the remaining potential address matches, Social Services reviewed more than 15,700 matches and substantiated in 216 instances that a registered sex offender lived in, worked in, or was associated with a state‑licensed facility, county‑licensed facility, or foster home. According to Social Services, it took action to protect the safety of children and vulnerable adults in these 216 instances, including removing and excluding the registered sex offenders from the homes, removing children from the homes, initiating safety interventions such as limiting the sex offender’s access to the foster child, or revoking the facilities’ licenses.

Although 216 substantiated investigations represents a small percentage of the total number of potential address matches, Social Services’ actions and the outcomes produced by its address comparison process had a demonstrable impact on the health and safety of children. In several cases we reviewed, the address comparison and follow‑up investigations identified registered sex offenders who resided in approved foster homes without Social Services’ knowledge. Only through the address comparison and follow‑up investigations were these situations discovered and resolved.

For example, in one address match investigation we reviewed, the county social worker found that the caregiver allowed a registered sex offender and parolee to reside in the approved foster home with six minors, three of whom were foster children between the ages of 1 and 4. When interviewed, the caregiver acknowledged that the registered sex offender resided in the home. Further, the eldest foster child disclosed that both the caregiver and the registered sex offender had struck her several times. Using the information obtained through the on‑site investigation, the county social worker determined that there were multiple safety concerns in the caregiver’s home and immediately removed the three foster children. The social worker also discovered that the registered sex offender was released on parole to this home, which subjects the home to continuous parole compliance checks. The registered sex offender’s parole officer stated that the sex offender was complying with the terms of his parole and the parole officer did not object to the living arrangement because she believed the children belonged to him.

In another investigation we reviewed, the county investigating the address match determined that the caregivers, who were the child’s relatives, allowed their adult son—a registered sex offender—to reside in the approved foster home with their foster child for approximately three months without the county child welfare services (CWS) agency’s knowledge. Despite the fact that both caregivers were aware that their son was a registered sex offender, they did not feel that his presence was a problem. In fact, the caregivers stated that they were unconcerned because their son’s parole officer approved of his living in the home and knew that the child also lived there. The county social worker investigating this case spoke with the parole officer and confirmed that she approved the home because the conditions of the registered sex offender’s parole did not prohibit him from having contact with children. However, in both this investigation and the one discussed previously, it is unclear whether the parole officers knew that the homes were approved foster homes and that state law generally prohibits registered sex offenders from living or working in these homes.

During the investigation, the county social worker did not discover any evidence that anyone living in the home had abused or neglected the foster child. Nevertheless, the social worker substantiated that the caregivers allowed a registered sex offender to live in their foster home and have regular contact with a foster child without their properly notifying the county of the presence of this adult in the home. Based on the information obtained through the on‑site investigation, the county social worker removed the foster child and placed her in the care of her father, who had recently been awarded court‑ordered services to maintain the child in his home.

Both cases demonstrate the value of the address comparison process in identifying registered sex offenders who move into a foster home without the respective county’s knowledge and the positive impact these address match investigations have on protecting the health and safety of foster children.

Procedural Improvements Would Enhance Social Services’ Reviews of Registered Sex Offenders Who May Be Living With or Working Around Foster Children

Although Social Services has implemented our recommendation to conduct regular address comparisons to identify registered sex offenders who may be illegally living or working in licensed facilities or in the homes of foster children, it has not been adequately tracking the outcome of all address matches that it has identified, and it has not adequately documented certain procedures. As described in the Introduction, Social Services divides the responsibility for initiating and tracking the outcomes of registered sex offender reviews among four units. However, we found that none of these four units is actively reconciling the number of address matches identified through its address comparison process to the number of address matches reviewed. As indicated earlier, when we performed this reconciliation, we discovered that far fewer address matches were reviewed than were identified by the address comparison process. Specifically, we found that two of the responsible units failed to track or document that they had reviewed more than 8,500 identified address matches as shown in Table 1.

Because of these missing outcomes, we were concerned that Social Services did not appropriately review all the address matches it identified, thereby risking the possibility that a registered sex offender might still be present in these licensed facilities or in the homes of foster children. As a result, we asked each unit to explain the discrepancies and to provide supporting documentation to reconcile its number of completed reviews with the number of address matches identified through Social Services’ address comparison process.

In response to this inquiry, the units provided us with reasons why they believed the discrepancies existed between the number of address matches identified and the number that were reviewed. Three units attributed the discrepancies to address matches that they removed during an initial screening process. The Statewide Child Care Program Office (child care office) discovered in response to our inquiry that its discrepancy existed because it failed to review four address matches from October 2013, in which registered sex offenders’ addresses matched the addresses of family child care homes. In April 2015, as soon as the child care office became aware of these unresolved address matches, based on our inquiry, it immediately referred three for investigation, and determined it had previously investigated the remaining match. Ultimately, the child care office found that registered sex offenders were not associated with the facilities in the remaining three cases. Despite the positive outcomes, because these address matches were about 16 months old, it is critical for each responsible unit to actively track its address matches to ensure that each one is properly reviewed and that each unit documents the outcome of its review.

Although each of the units was able to generally explain the discrepancy between its number of address matches identified and reviewed, only the Investigations Branch and the child care office could reconcile their discrepancy after our inquiry and demonstrate to us that they had appropriately reviewed each address match. The Statewide Children’s Residential Program Office (children’s residential office) could not account for 595 matches or demonstrate to us that it had appropriately reviewed each match. According to the manager of the children’s residential office, it does not have a process in place to provide a detailed reconciliation of its address matches and reviews, and it does not have the resources necessary to retroactively complete this analysis. Finally, according to the Performance and Program Improvement Unit (performance unit), after our inquiry, it began to take steps to reconcile the 7,913 matches unaccounted for. However, as of June 2015, this reconciliation had not been completed.

In addition to the discrepancy between the number of address matches it identified and reviewed, the performance unit has not adequately tracked its overdue address match investigations. As shown in Table 1, the performance unit reported that 422 of its address match investigations were past due as of October 2014. The performance unit requires that each county investigate and report the outcomes of its address match investigations to it within 45 calendar days. We requested the performance unit to provide the outcomes of these outstanding investigations, but the performance unit chief stated that he could not confirm with certainty that the counties investigated them, nor could he summarize the outcome for each because the current tracking system that the performance unit uses does not allow his staff to see which address matches were previously overdue. Similar to the address match discrepancies discussed earlier, this further illustrates that Social Services is not adequately tracking the outcomes of all address matches identified through its address comparison process.

We found that the four units did not adequately document their investigative procedures. For example, each unit performs a preliminary investigation process to screen out or remove certain address matches before assigning cases for an on‑site investigation. However, the children’s residential office and the child care office had no procedures documenting the screening process they performed. Further, although the Investigations Branch and the performance unit documented their screening processes, neither included explanations of why it was safe to screen out certain address matches. Additionally, the child care office, children’s residential office, and performance unit had no written procedures outlining how their staff should monitor and review the results of a county’s investigations. Without better documented procedures, staff may not understand the reasoning behind the tasks they perform, especially if key staff were to leave their positions. All four units agreed that they need to better develop and document their procedures to enhance their staff’s knowledge of the process, preserve institutional knowledge, and ensure that their staff implement the procedures consistently in the future. The four units indicated that revised procedures will be in place by fall 2015.

Finally, Social Services discovered in September 2013 that for almost two years—from December 2011 to September 2013—it was performing monthly address comparisons that captured only the addresses of registered sex offenders who were newly registered or active in the sex offender registry during the month reviewed. Thus, its comparisons during that period incorrectly excluded addresses from all previous months. This error could have prevented Social Services from promptly identifying registered sex offenders who may have been living or working in licensed facilities or foster homes during the 21 months in which it used this flawed methodology. Social Services corrected its methodology in October 2013, as soon as it became aware of it, and now conducts monthly address comparisons using the entire sex offender registry.

By correcting this error, Social Services significantly increased the number of registered sex offenders’ addresses included in the comparison process. Specifically, in September 2013, the month immediately before it made the correction, Social Services compared the addresses of its licensed facilities and foster homes to about 12,500 addresses from the sex offender registry and identified 280 potential matches. One month later, using the corrected methodology, Social Services compared its facilities’ addresses to the entire sex offender registry, which contained more than 447,000  addresses, resulting in the identification of nearly 10,000 potential matches. After this initial spike in address matches, the revised methodology captured, on average, about twice as many matches per month than the previous methodology had.

Although Counties Have Reduced Placements With Foster Family Agencies, Social Services Has Not Fully Implemented Our Recommendations Related to Such Placements

Over the last four years, the placement of foster children with more expensive foster family agencies—typically private nonprofit organizations that recruit and certify foster homes—has continued to decrease. We attribute this decrease to the financial incentives created by the 2011 public safety realignment (realignment), which enables counties to keep the savings resulting from using lower‑cost placement options, and to Social Services’ continued efforts to encourage placements with foster children’s relatives. In effect, realignment resolved one of the recommendations from our 2011 audit. However, as shown in Table 2 below, Social Services has not fully implemented the remaining four recommendations related to the use of foster family agencies. Consequently, counties continue to pay monthly rates to foster family agencies that are much higher than the rates for other placements, and the counties are not adequately justifying these more expensive placements.

Table 2
Status of Recommendations Related to Placement of Foster Children With Foster Family Agencies
Recommendation Status Based on Follow-up Review
To achieve greater cooperation from counties and to make it possible for some of these counties to improve their placement practices, the California Department of Social Services (Social Services) should develop a funding alternative that allows the counties to retain a portion of state funds they save as a result of reducing their reliance on foster family agencies and only making placements with these counties when justified by the elevated treatment needs of the child. The counties would use these funds to support placement activities necessary to achieve the savings (for example, assessment centers and placement resource units). Resolved*
To ensure that rates paid to foster family agencies are appropriate, Social Services should analyze the rates and provide reasonable support for each component, especially the 40 percent administrative fee it currently pays these agencies. Not fully implemented
Social Services should require counties to file in the Child Welfare Services/Case Management System a detailed justification for any child placed with a foster family agency. Not fully implemented
Social Services should create a mechanism by which it can efficiently check for compliance with the needs-justification requirement. Not fully implemented
Social Services should create and monitor compliance with clear requirements specifying that children placed with foster family agencies must have elevated treatment needs that would require a group home placement if not for the existence of these agencies’ programs. Specifically, Social Services should revise its regulations so licensed foster homes have higher priority than foster family agencies for children who do not have identified treatment needs. No action taken

Sources: California State Auditor’s (state auditor) recommendations in report 2011-101.1: Child Welfare Services: California Can and Must Provide Better Protection and Support for Abused and Neglected Children, and the state auditor’s analysis of Social Services’ implementation activities.

* Social Services did not take action to fully implement this recommendation; rather, the 2011 public safety realignment passed by the Legislature resolved our recommendation.

Because of Realignment and the Increased Placement of Foster Children With Their Relatives, Counties’ Use of Foster Family Agencies Has Decreased

We previously reported concerns that the placement of children with foster family agencies increased from 18 percent to 29 percent between 1999 and 2010. Further, we estimated that this growth in the percentage of placements with foster family agencies, which cost significantly more than licensed foster homes, resulted in counties spending an additional $327 million in foster care payments between 2001 and 2010. To address this trend, we recommended that Social Services develop a funding alternative to allow counties to retain a portion of state funds they save as a result of reducing their reliance on foster family agencies.

Social Services indicated in its 60‑day response to our October 2011 audit, and we agreed, that realignment had essentially addressed this recommendation. Specifically, the state budget act of 2011 included a major realignment of public safety programs from the state to local governments, including Social Services’ funding for foster care. Beginning in fiscal year 2011–12, a portion of state sales and use tax revenues and vehicle license fee revenues are now designated for the counties and deposited into a separate account within the State’s Local Revenue Fund to support various CWS activities. The Legislative Analyst’s Office reported that realignment did not change major functions of the CWS system; rather, it transferred most nonfederal funding responsibility for child welfare programs to the counties. Before realignment, when CWS caseloads increased, the State and counties would share in these increased costs. After realignment, counties bear financial responsibility for increases in caseloads or other CWS costs. Conversely, if caseloads or other costs decrease, counties can use these savings for other related purposes. Consequently, realignment provides a financial incentive for counties to use lower‑cost placement options such as placements with relatives or licensed foster homes when appropriate.

Another likely reason for the decrease in the use of foster family agencies is Social Services’ efforts to encourage the placement of foster children with relatives. In its 2010 program improvement plan, Social Services described efforts, known as family finding, to locate children’s mothers, fathers, and other maternal and paternal family members. According to Social Services, the program improvement plan specifically focused on increasing placements with relatives because research has shown that such placements are more stable than other placement settings. Consequently, those children tend to have fewer subsequent placements, including placements with foster family agencies. As the Figure indicates, the decrease in the percentage of placements with foster family agencies corresponds to the timing of realignment and to an increase in the percentage of foster children placed with relatives. Given that placements with relatives are better for children and much less expensive than placements with foster family agencies or group homes, counties have a natural incentive to follow Social Services’ guidance. We estimated that by reducing their reliance on foster family agencies, counties saved nearly $69 million between July 2010 and December 2014.4

Percentage of Children in Placement by Type
January 1998 Through January 2015

Figure, a line chart displaying the percentage of children placed in four types of foster care placement settings from 1998 to 2014.

Source: Unaudited data from Child Welfare Services/Case Management System, 2014 fourth‑quarter extract. Retrieved from the website of the University of California at Berkeley Center for Social Services.

Note: This figure excludes probation supervised placements and supervised independent living placements.

It appears, however, that these decreases in placements with foster family agencies have begun to taper off. In fact, for 2013 and 2014, the CWS system has had no decrease in the percentage of placements with foster family agencies once the statistics are adjusted for recent increases in a relatively new population of foster children—young adults living in supervised independent living situations. As the following sections explain, the implementation of our remaining 2011 recommendations will help counties continue to reduce their use of foster family agencies and will thus allow them to achieve even greater savings that they can use to create or sustain other parts of the CWS program.

Social Services Still Does Not Have Support for the Rates It Pays Foster Family Agencies

In our 2011 audit, we concluded that Social Services did not have reasonable support to justify its payment rates for foster family agencies. We were especially concerned that Social Services did not know how it determined that the 40 percent administrative fee paid to the foster family agencies was an appropriate amount for the agencies’ recruitment, training, and other administration. The rates paid to foster family agencies, which are overseen by Social Services, assume that children placed with these agencies have elevated treatment needs—such as the need for counseling—that would otherwise land the children in even more expensive group homes. As Table 3 below shows, the monthly payment rates for foster family agencies are more than $1,000 higher than the monthly cost of licensed foster family homes. We recommended that Social Services analyze its payment rates for foster family agencies and provide reasonable support for each component of these rates; however, it has yet to complete this analysis.

Table 3
Comparison of Monthly Rates for Licensed Foster Homes and Foster Family Agencies
Fiscal Year 2014–15
Age Group Cost of Licensed Foster Home Foster Family Agency Treatment Rates Difference Between Monthly Rates for Foster Homes and Foster Family Agencies
Payment to Foster Home Additional Social Work Services Administration Total Payment to Foster Family Agency
0–4 $671 $860 $296 $572 $1,728 $1,057
5–8 726 915 296 593 1,804 1,078
9–11 764 953 296 611 1,860 1,096
12–14 800 989 296 643 1,928 1,128
15–20 838 1,027 296 672 1,995 1,157

Source: California Department of Social Services’ all-county letter (No. 14-44) regarding foster care rates issued in July 2014.

Senate Bill 1013 (SB 1013), Chapter 35, Statutes of 2012, requires Social Services to establish a working group to develop recommended revisions to the current services, programs, and rate‑setting system serving children and families, including all programs provided by foster family agencies. Social Services established this required working group in September 2012, and according to the chief of the foster care audits and rates branch, it plans to have a revised rate structure in place by January 2017. She also indicated that the revised rate structure will include reasonable support for each component. However, by waiting until January 2017 to develop reasonable substantiation for the foster family agencies’ rate structure, including their administration fee, Social Services is causing counties to continue to pay rates that do not have adequate justification.

Social Services Still Does Not Require Counties to Document the Treatment Needs of Children Placed With Foster Family Agencies

As indicated earlier, Social Services developed a higher payment rate for foster family agencies because it assumed that children placed with these agencies would have elevated treatment needs. However, despite our earlier recommendation, Social Services still does not require counties to document the treatment needs of children placed with foster family agencies.

In our 2011 audit, we highlighted the fact that although the payment rate of foster family agencies is more than double that of state‑ or county‑licensed foster homes, Social Services’ regulations do not require counties to document their justification for placing children with the more expensive agencies. Although the counties we visited for the 2011 audit stated that they preferred to use licensed foster homes instead of foster family agencies, none of them required justification or supervisor approval for placing children with a foster family agency. In fact, officials in two counties we visited in 2011 acknowledged that those counties had been placing children without elevated treatment needs with foster family agencies. One official added, “Placements are being directed towards foster family agencies that are more about convenience than treatment needs.” A 2001 study by the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), corroborated these assertions. Specifically, the study found that foster family agencies were originally developed as an alternative to group homes but over time morphed into something different than originally conceived. As Social Services stated in a June 2000 report to the Legislature, foster family agencies became a replacement for licensed foster homes. Further, the UC Davis study, which included a sample review of over 700 children in placement, found that children in its sample who were in licensed foster homes actually had a higher frequency of medical, physical, behavioral, psychological, and learning problems than children in its sample who were in foster family agency homes.

In our 2011 audit, we recommended that Social Services require counties to file in the CWS/CMS database a detailed justification for placing a child with a foster family agency, and we proposed that Social Services create an efficient mechanism to check for compliance with the needs‑justification requirement for these placements. In its response to these recommendations, Social Services explained that it plans to replace CWS/CMS with a new case management system in 2019; therefore, it is not practical from either a cost or time standpoint to update CWS/CMS to address our recommendation. However, we believe that Social Services still could have taken action to address this deficiency, despite the fact that it plans to replace its current case management system. One purpose of the CWS/CMS is to document where foster children are and what steps the county took to ensure that the placement was safe. Therefore, Social Services could require counties to use these same locations within CWS/CMS to document the steps they took to ensure that a child placed with a foster family agency actually had elevated treatment needs that would otherwise cause him or her to be placed in a group home. By not establishing this basic control, Social Services perpetuates a long‑standing problem: payments to foster family agencies—portions of which are federally reimbursed—are not adequately justified.

Social Services Has Not Revised Its Regulations to Make Placing Children in Licensed Foster Homes a Higher Priority Than Placing Them With Foster Family Agencies

Social Services has not implemented our recommendation to revise its regulations so that licensed foster homes have a higher priority than foster family agencies for children who do not have identified treatment needs. In our 2011 audit, we criticized Social Services’ regulations for putting licensed foster homes and homes certified by foster family agencies on the same priority tier. As stated earlier, our reason for doing so was that foster family agencies are much more expensive than licensed foster homes, and so children placed with these agencies should have elevated treatment needs that would otherwise cause the children to be placed in group homes. However, years later, Social Services still has not responded adequately to these concerns and to our corresponding recommendation.

Although state law authorizes Social Services to revise its regulations, it did not. According to Social Services’ legal counsel, it did not update its regulations because at the time the 2011 audit findings were made, Social Services was in the process of a reform effort to revise its placement statutes and regulations pursuant to SB 1013. Furthermore, Social Services’ legal counsel explained that Social Services did not want to make a temporary, piecemeal change in the placement regulations to address the one issue raised in our 2011 audit. Rather, Social Services felt that changes to the placement regulation should be made as part of an integrated set of regulatory changes that will be adopted as part of its reform effort. Furthermore, Social Services stated that it is awaiting the passage of Assembly Bill 403 (AB 403), which the Legislature is currently considering. AB 403 would mandate that licensed foster family homes be given a higher placement priority than foster family agencies and would authorize Social Services to issue regulations in furtherance of the bill’s provisions by means of all‑county letters. If AB 403 is enacted into law, the earliest date Social Services could issue regulations or instructions through an all‑county letter would be January 2016, which is when the provisions of AB 403 would go into effect. This will be more than four years since we made our original recommendation. By not making our recommended regulatory changes, Social Services has allowed counties to continue placing children in the more costly foster family agency placements when lower‑cost placements with licensed foster homes may be more appropriate.

Despite this acknowledged delay, Social Services believes that the reform effort it began as the result of SB 1013 has placed it on a path to implement our recommendations related to foster family agency placements. Specifically, Social Services asserts that, as required by SB 1013, it is in the process of revising the current system—including foster family agency programs—through a major restructuring of the system of out‑of‑home care, children and youth no longer need to be moved between placements and programs to obtain their needed services. Rather, Social Services believes that children and youth will be supported in family homes and the least restrictive settings possible, with their services brought to them, which it indicates will necessitate substantial changes to the current rates system.

In addition, Social Services plans to conduct enhanced case reviews of counties’ placements on a sample basis, which will serve as a monitoring mechanism to ensure compliance with the needs‑justification requirement. Furthermore, AB 403, if enacted, will require counties to meet certain requirements to receive federal reimbursement when placing children with foster family agencies. For example, the social worker will be required to document in the child’s case plan the need for, nature of, and anticipated duration of the foster family agency placement. Once in place, these changes will likely fully address both of our recommendations in this area. However, according to Social Services, implementing changes of this magnitude statewide will require a sustained and coordinated effort, involving significant time and resources over several years and, therefore, it will be a minimum of two years before it will be able to address these recommendations.

We believe that once Social Services fully implements our remaining recommendations, counties will rely less on foster family agencies, thus saving millions of dollars while still placing children with facilities that match their needs. In fact, we estimate that if Social Services were to implement our recommendations by July 2015, counties could save $116 million over the next five years.5 However, to achieve these results, at least some portion of these potential savings would need to be spent on additional efforts, such as family finding or foster family recruiting.


To ensure that all address matches of registered sex offenders who potentially reside or work at a licensed facility or foster home are reviewed, Social Services should improve its current mechanism to track and monitor the outcome of each address match it identifies. This tracking mechanism should allow Social Services to actively reconcile the number of address matches identified through its address comparison process with the number of completed reviews to ensure that it appropriately reviewed each match. Further, this mechanism should allow Social Services to actively monitor and report on any overdue investigations.

To improve its review process, preserve institutional knowledge, and ensure that staff consistently implement registered sex offender reviews in the future, Social Services should better document its review procedures. For example, Social Services should better document its screening process by identifying criteria for determining when it is acceptable to exclude certain address matches from investigation and by providing an explanation to staff for why it is safe to remove address matches that meet those particular criteria.

To ensure that counties’ use of foster family agency placements is justified, Social Services should take action to implement the recommendations we previously made in our 2011 audit. Specifically, Social Services should do the following:

We conducted this audit under the authority vested in the California State Auditor by Section 8543 et seq. of the California Government Code and according to generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives specified in the Scope and Methodology section of the report. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

Respectfully submitted,

State Auditor

July 2, 2015

John Baier, CPA, Audit Principal
Amber Ronan
Bill Eggert, MPA
Scott R. Osborne, MBA

Legal Counsel:
J. Christopher Dawson, Sr. Staff Counsel

For questions regarding the contents of this report, please contact Margarita Fernández, Chief of Public Affairs, at 916.445.0255.


2 Sex Offender Placement: State Laws Are Not Always Clear, and No One Formally Assesses the Impact Sex Offender Placement Has on Local Communities, Report 2007‑115 (April 2008). Go back to text

3 The Megan’s Law website is the portion of Justice’s sex offender registry that the public can view. Go back to text

4 This savings captures only the decrease in the use of foster family agencies and does not consider any costs incurred by counties and Social Services to achieve these results. Go back to text

5 Without any of the controls we recommend in place, the use of foster family agencies annually increased by 1.24 percent from January 2000 to January 2010. Our cost‑savings estimate assumes that, with the controls we suggest, the use of foster family agencies could annually decrease by this same percentage. Go back to text

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