Archive for May 2013
Teens R Us – Foster Children for Sale
The Business of Child Abuse
By Joshua Allen
For the second time in as many weeks, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors will attempt to close Teens Happy Homes.
The vote had been originally scheduled for the previous week. However supervisor Ridley Thomas tabled the vote, and had a closed-door session, apparently discussing legal ramifications should the Board of Supervisors close the agency.
Such a concern is not without merit. Teens has learned a lot over the years. There is George Gutierrez, who is the management consultant heard on the secret recordings of the board meeting in 2010. He brought considerable expertise, and knowledge to Teens management.
Years ago, Gutierrez was involved with an agency El Camino.
The county wants to avoid closing down Teens in a way that would leave the county legally exposed. Wishing to avoid a potential county payout, should the county make a mistake, the Board of Supervisors is apparently taking their time, ensuring all T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted.
There may have been other reasons for the delay, which can’t be particularly satisfactory to the abused and neglected children, who are waiting to see if they will be transferred to a wonderful new foster home, remain with the same loving and kind foster parents, or end up staying in the same crappy foster home – take your pick.
During this time, Teens has remained open. Teens, is no doubt dying on the vine, as this is what happens when an agency is on a ‘do not refer list.’
As, no new children can be placed with the agency, Teens will continue to shrink, as other children leave to go to different homes, or reunify with birth families.
The entire process is extremely dramatic for all involved. If history is any guide, each one of Teens original foster homes will be scrutinized with a fine tooth comb. The homes will be checked and rechecked.
And foster children who may have wished to remain in those homes will have been transferred, on the off chance there was something the County missed, while overlooking years of apparent corruption.
Some children who may have been in Teens homes for years will be forced to relocate to a different foster home, many miles away. These children will have no recourse to return to foster parents they have come to know, and love. It will all depend on the County Social Workers (CSW’s) and their supervisors, who won’t be in much of a mood to take any risks.
Some foster parents will never be allowed to take in children again, as violations which were previously thought to have been minor, will suddenly become significant in the eyes of the County. Other foster parents will transfer to new agencies, but only with difficulty, and soul-searching.
Agencies in search of revenue will try to take as many families as they can together with the children in the home, as a family of four can be worth over $100,000 to an agency.
Knowing this, some social workers will use this lucrative endeavor to secure contract employment for themselves, with a new agency.
This does not have to be a bad thing, as some foster parents over time form excellent working relationships with a contract social worker. However, there is always the risk of the lack of objectivity, or collusion between the social worker, and the foster parent.
Further, the world of contract social work is rife with minor corruption and rules violations. Social workers will get around the rules governing the amount of cases they may have, by taking jobs in two counties.
One worker, who has left our geographic area, had so many cases, the county concluded that signatures from foster parents on home visit forms had to be forged. And the investigators were well on their way to proving it.
Agencies if they like the worker, will tend to overlook this, and or, have them sign some meaningless piece of paper stating that they will not engage in this practice.
It is well known that foster care has more meaningless signatures on pieces of paper, than just about any other job in the entire world.
This would almost be funny, until one considers the dozens of abused and neglected children, who failed to get appropriate services, or help from those entrusted to do just that.
It must be asked, as in the case of Teens Happy Homes; Do other agencies have current board members, or employees, with criminal backgrounds, fraud or other sexual harassment charges in their past?
Tell us, are their other sleazy felons who are board members, like there are at Teens?
A promised crackdown by the Board of Supervisors, and Wendy Watanabe, of agencies that have board members who are also contractors with their agencies, or have some other type of conflict of interest, means that somebody is in store for quite of bit of work.
Because until now, this has been a typical practice. Conflict of interests are the rule, not the exception.
And finally, will anyone ever be prosecuted for fraud or malfeasance? After millions of dollars allowed to go any which way, we have yet to see a single conviction of a CEO or board member.
Because in Big Government Foster Care, nothing really happens, until a child dies.
The second shoe has begun to drop, and it now appears that Teens Happy Homes will soon be closed. You can read about it here.
Garett Therolf continues to do stellar work on this story, and it is nice to see the media take an interest in the subject, and do the good investigative work necessary, to bring about a bit of improvement in the lives of the foster children, attached to this agency. This is important stuff.
However, as usual, at other suspect agencies, malfeasance alone, is not enough to warrant many words on the subject, or action by regulators. Or for that matter, action by law enforcement.
Malfeasance, must be accompanied by child deaths or significant injuries, before any action is taken, to bring some culprits to moderate justice.
An example of this can be seen with United Care, which was closed a few years ago. In one of the below recordings given to the Times, consultant Jorge Gutierrez, when speaking about Craig Woods and United Care, pointed out that it wasn’t the death of Viola Vanclief that caused United Care to be closed.
Rather it was Craig’s “stubbornness” in not paying back the bulk of the money, which the county said, had been illegally siphoned by a former employee. (Almost $250,000).
At United Care, an innocent toddler was murdered, before malfeasance warranted a heavy hand by the county, which shut down the agency.
Similarly, another agency was shut, fairly recently, accompanied by similar financial wreckage, payments to felons, and encompassed a plethora of creepy individuals, enough to turn one’s stomach.
However, in the case of this other agency, there wasn’t a lot of child welfare violations. This circumstance warranted minimal media attention, despite missing funds amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not sexy enough?
Things are different with Teens, but why did it take so long?
Part of the real story, is that Teens fiscal audit is not yet completed, after 3 years! Much of the information should have been acted upon, much earlier.
Sincere kudos, to Ms. Watanabe, who admitted county auditors dropped the ball with Teens. And yet, officials, and media, were warned, by this author and others, in 2010, regarding many similar allegations.
Malfeasance, as well as child welfare issues, at Teens, were continuously ignored.
Surely this garbage dump was an open secret. Social workers, current and previous staff members, must have stiff necks from looking the other way all the time.
Obviously at Teens, and quite clearly, one dare says, at other agencies, payment for minimal or nonexistent work, occurs with willful blindness, by staff, and regulaters. In some places, it is blatant.
Ask away! An arrow shall be pointed, (as continues to be done here), to obvious culprits. Yet, under these circumstances, how could child welfare not suffer?
There are good agencies. There are hard working social workers, who do such work with nobel intentions. There are wonderful foster parents, who save children’s lives.
All are tainted, by too many greedy, bad apples.
The warnings, are a broken record. And the guilty, attack the sources, who are afraid for their jobs, and have learned the hard way, that nothing will be done.
There will be no justice. Either for the cheated children, or the crooks. Nobody will face criminal charges, let alone be banned from working with abused and neglected children.
Are things different now? Can they be?
Teens Happy Homes: Contract discussed behind closed doors: Which Agency is Next to Crumble?
The Business of Child Abuse:
By Joshua Allen
We have been writing about Teens Happy Homes, and other agencies of concern for over 3 years. For 3 years we warned the county, and anyone else who would listen, that the system of audits in place are inadequate, and so weak, as to encourage malfeasance. Children’s welfare suffers when there is malfeasance. How can it be otherwise?
Foster Care Agencies have a Board of Directors. This Board is supposed to be supervising, the agencies care of abused and neglected children, and they also monitor an agencies finances. However, since board members are almost always friends and family, they do neither. And therefore, the children suffer, as they always have.
So it comes as no surprise, about today news. LA TIMES STORY
The County Board of Supervisors, is going through the motions, and finally considering closing Teens Happy Homes. This after years of warnings, destroyed financial records (which happened the same week as one of the audits), and the deaths of abused and neglected children.
“The routine audit of Teens in 2003 faced problems from the beginning. Shortly before auditors arrived, a sewage backup destroyed many financial records. The remaining documents painted a picture of financial chaos.”
One would think the above quote, which came from the Previous Times Story, would have caused a large red flag warranting significant attention. But that didn’t happen. And now, apparently, because of county incompetence, children are dead. There is no other way to put it.
One of the new proposals, by Zev Yaroslavsky, would be to hire 6 or 7 additional monitors to track agency finances. This is a good start.
Why has such an obvious partial solution taken so long? It is a question best asked, while pondering the thousand mile stare of sexually abused children.
Older foster kids know when money is being siphoned from its intended purpose. Go ask some of the kids – ask them what gifts they received for Christmas from their agency. One agency had no gifts for 2 out the past 3 years. This, while 3 staff members received almost 10% of the gross. Does that sound right?
Whistle blowers, who risk everything, including violence, feel betrayed, when they come forth and nothing happens. When officials throw up the hands and say, “…there is nothing I can do.”
There must be a cap on top salaries, perhaps in the $125,000 range? Especially when an agency has a gross below 6 or 7 million dollars. If foster care workers want to make more, perhaps the private sector is a more suitable solution, rather than toiling in the trenches.
The Agency Board of Directors must be unconnected to the CEO’s, who is answerable to them. Shouldn’t board members be people who do it only to contribute their time and energy towards helping abuse victims? Instead, we have boards made up of friends and family members, or employees of the agency, who police their own, and often, get little, under the table deals.
When auditors come, especially financial auditors, a practical idea would be to interview lower staff members, and do so in private. Auditors must see such individuals away from the prying eyes of the administration, who may be timing the interview, as they sit outside the door.
Shouldn’t whistle blowers have some form of protection, beyond getting a lawyer they can’t afford, and waiting years for any sort of resolution?
Administrators, directors, treasurers, and other 6 figure staff members must be able to prove they actually work full time, or something close to a 40-hour week. That is, proof, beyond silly time cards, which mean nothing in the scheme of things.
How many days and hours per week, can some of these guys be away from the office? Who holds them accountable? Their cousin Vinny? Dad?
Foster agency salaries, for the most part, are paid for by our taxes. These are not private foundations. This is part of the problem, because heads of these places, consider the non-profit agencies to be their personal businesses. And these agencies are not theirs to do with as they chose. Not when they take tax money to survive. They belong to us, and are accountable.
Finally, and most obvious: Why are foster parents, who hurt foster children, allowed to pop up somewhere else and do it all over again? This last part hurts, because we are big fans of foster parents, and consider it one of life’s toughest and most thankless jobs.
But the good ones don’t do it for “thanks.” And that is why, it is so egregious, when money is siphoned away. Because it is money that could be helping these children, rather than lining pockets.
Thank heavens for good foster parents, and good social workers, and supervisors. Because it is this group of people, beyond everyone else, except for foster children, who know how bad things can really be.