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California auditor: 1,000 state-licensed facilities match sex offenders' addresses

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 8:58 PM EDT, Thu October 27, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: More than 600 of the 1,000 sex offender address matches are state-licensed facilities for kids
  • In response, state welfare officials take legal action against eight facilities
  • They also bar 36 sex offenders from associating with foster homes, auditor says

Los Angeles (CNN) -- The California state auditor has found that more than 1,000 state-licensed facilities -- including more than 600 for kids -- matched addresses in the sex-offender registry, saying oversight mechanisms lag behind state requirements.

The state Department of Social Services "cites the lack of resources as the primary reason why it has not implemented an automated sex offender address match and why its oversight mechanisms are falling short of requirements," said the state auditor's report, released Thursday.

Specifically, the report said that 677 foster and group homes and other state-licensed facilities for children matched sex offenders' addresses, as well as 385 state-licensed facilities for vulnerable adults.

The auditor found that almost 600 of the 1,000 address matches were "high risk and in need of immediate investigation," the report said. It was not clear from the report how many foster and group homes are in California, in total.

This month, the state social services agency and county child welfare agencies investigated 99% of the matches and began legal actions against eight licensees of facilities, including four license revocations, said the report, titled "Child Welfare Services -- California Can and Must Provide Better Protection and Support for Abused and Neglected Children."

In six of those actions, registered sex offenders were living or present in the child facilities, and counties found 36 sex offenders having "some association" with foster homes -- prompting authorities to remove children from the facilities and ordering the offenders out of the homes, the report said.

State costs for housing foster children have also grown dramatically, California State Auditor Elaine M. Howle found.

"The percentage of children placed with private foster family agencies — agencies that recruit and certify foster homes and are compensated at a higher rate than state- or county-licensed foster homes — has dramatically increased over the last 10 years and resulted in an additional $327 million in foster care payments during that time," the report said. "The counties we visited admit to placing children with these agencies out of convenience rather than for elevated treatment needs as originally intended."

The state social services agency "generally agreed" with the auditor's findings and outlined an action plan in response to several recommendations, the auditor said.

In an October 7 response to the report, director Will Lightbourne of the California Department of Social Services wrote he agreed that "address comparison provides an additional protection for vulnerable clients in care, and agrees that prevention should be part of the protection."

"We are concerned, however, that performing matches against every known sex offender address may not be the most effective means of prevention and ensuring protection. The process involved in this audit required CDSS and counties to investigate every known address of sex offenders, including addresses that were years and in some cases, decades, out of date," Lightbourne said.

"The California Sex and Arson Registry (CSAR) includes effective dates of address and identifies active and inactive addresses, and future processes to compare addresses therefore should focus on information technology solutions to minimize the need for staff to manually search through and verify information," the director continued. "The CDSS is exploring solutions that leverage technology and key partners to create an efficient and effective process to provide this additional protection."

The state auditor also recommended that the social service agency "complete comprehensive reviews of agencies' licensing activities more timely as well as on-site reviews of state-licensed foster homes, foster family agencies, and group homes. Moreover, Social Services should ensure that rates paid to private foster family agencies are appropriate and should monitor placements with these agencies," the auditor said.

In 2010, child welfare agencies in California's 58 counties received 480,000 allegations of child abuse or neglect. Each county maintains its own child welfare service program, and the state Department of Social Services provides oversight, the report said.

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