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Report: problems continue at LA foster agency

Posted: April 28, 2013 3:45 p.m.
Updated: April 28, 2013 3:45 p.m.

This April 3, 2013 photo shows the exterior of the Teens Happy Homes foster care agency in Los Angeles. A newspaper investigation finds continuing neglect of children and dubious financial practices at the private foster care agency, a decade after it was singled out for similar problems by Los Angeles County auditors.

 

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A newspaper investigation has found continuing neglect and abuse of children and dubious financial practices at a private foster care agency, a decade after it was singled out for similar problems by Los Angeles County auditors.

Between October 2008 and September 2011 there were 240 allegations of abuse or neglect filed on behalf of youths placed with families by Teens Happy Homes, according to documents cited by the Los Angeles Times.

The agency's rate of nearly two allegations for each home during that period was more than two times the average for the state and two-thirds higher than that of the rest of LA County, the newspaper said.

About half of Teens' 131 facilities had no complaints during the period covered by the data. But four of them had 10 or more complaints, landing them among the top 40 in the county.

Between 2008 and 2011, 1,154 children lived in its homes.

During that time state investigators found one foster parent who had a child stay with a registered sex offender. In another home, they discovered a foster parent shoving a girl's face into her brother's potty-training bowl. A premature baby just a few days old arrived at Teens from the county Department of Children and Family Services with traces of PCP in his blood.

The problems were similar to those outlined in a 2003 report, which also found agency workers bought beer and cigarettes with public funds and billed the state and county more than $100,000 for care that was never provided.

Ten years ago, auditors told county officials to give Teens closer supervision or cancel its contract. But not only did the county Board of Supervisors continue the Teens contract, it tripled its value, from $1 million a year to as much as $3.6 million, according to tax records.

Since then, Teens has been only loosely monitored by the state and county, which typically audits the finances at private agencies once a decade, the Times said.

Robert Fellmeth, director of the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, told the newspaper the long delay in reviewing the agency is indicative of the state and county's inattention to private foster care agencies that were created over 25 years ago.

"There are some clear failures indicating the need for financial auditing and performance oversight," Fellmeth said.

County Supervisor Gloria Molina said Teens should finally lose its contract, and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told the Times that if the allegations against Teens prove true, they "would constitute a serious misuse of public funds and represent a grave threat to the health and safety of the foster children."

Lawyers for Teens declined to comment on the findings.

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