May 1, 2019
Elaine M. Howle, CPA
California State Auditor
Bobby D. Cagle
RESPONSE TO THE CALIFORNIA STATE AUDITOR'S LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES AUDIT
Thank you for the opportunity to review the draft of the California State Auditor's audit of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
We agree with the recommendations contained in the current report, and have already initiated corrective actions on the issues that were brought to our attention during the review process. My Department is committed to improving internal practices to ensure the health and safety of the children of Los Angeles County. We thank your staff for their professionalism and time in performing this review to help strengthen our operations.
If you have any questions or require additional information, please have your staff contact Onnie Williams III, Administrative Services Manager III, at (323) 881-1348.
To ensure that it protects children by completing investigations, assessments, home inspections, and background checks in a timely manner, the Department should do the following by November 2019:
- Require staff and supervisors to utilize tracking reports and email alerts to identify investigations and Structured Decision Making (SDM) assessments not completed on time after these activities should have been completed. Establish thresholds for the number of days that will trigger follow-up from the department’s various levels of management.
The Department will work with its Business Information Systems (BIS) division to enhance existing management tracking reports that identify when investigations should be completed. An alert system will be developed to inform Children’s Social Workers (CSWs), Supervising Children’s Social Workers (SCSWs), and/or Assistant Regional Administrators (ARAs) of due dates when a referral has been open for 20 days. An alert system with notification triggers for outstanding SDM Safety and Risk Assessments will be developed for CSWs and SCSWs for further follow-up by regional administration teams. Staff and Supervisors will be trained to effectively utilize the enhanced tracking reports and alert system.
- Implement a tracking mechanism to monitor and follow-up on uncompleted or undocumented initial home inspections and background checks.
To strengthen monitoring and follow-up practices on uncompleted or undocumented home inspections and background checks, the Department will issue a For Your Information (FYI) bulletin and enhance its policy so it includes a matrix of approval levels, to remind staff that background clearances and physical home inspections are to be completed, documented in CWS/CMS, and filed in hardcopy case files before being approved.
- Implement a tracking mechanism to monitor Live Scan criminal record checks.
To monitor timely Live Scan and criminal record checks, the Department will work with BIS to modify the Criminal Clearance Tracking System (CCTS) application to provide alerts to CSWs and SCSWs to allow for tracking and follow-up with caretakers and other adults who have not appeared for fingerprinting.
- Conduct annual reviews of community organizations that perform home environment assessments to ensure that they complete these assessments on schedule.
On April 5, 2019, DCFS began on-site Technical Reviews with all Relative Home Assessment Services (RHAS) Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) for families served in 2017 and 2018. The reviews will be completed by May 31, 2019 and notifications of findings will be provided to the CBOs by June 30, 2019. The CBOs will be required to submit corrective action plans within 30 days for any findings of non-compliance. Follow-up reviews to ensure implementation of corrective action plans will occur on a selective basis through the end of 2019. In 2020 and annually thereafter, Technical Reviews will be completed for all RHAS CBOs.
In addition to completing annual Technical Reviews, DCFS will work with its vendor to develop additional measures on its Resource Family Approval Tracking System (BINTI) to help verify and track the timeliness of RHAS CBO preliminary home environment assessments.
To ensure that its staff appropriately use SDM assessments to identify safety threats and risks, the Department should by July 2019 incorporate SDM instructions into its policies and procedures and provide mandatory annual SDM training for applicable staff, supervisors, and other members of management by May 2020.
The Department has been engaged in an SDM fidelity review with National Council on Crime & Delinquency (NCCD)/Children’s Research Center (CRC). A policy is in the process of being developed on the use of the SDM assessments, and will coincide with the case-consultation coaching that ARAs will receive beginning May 2019; this will be completed by August 2019. Training for Trainers for SCSWs by CRC and South Academy will begin in November 2019 and be completed in January 2020. CSW training will be held in the Emergency Response Academy and will be accomplished by the fall.
To ensure that supervisors review investigations, assessments, and other documentation on time, by November 2019, the Department should specify timeframes by which each type of document should be reviewed. In doing so, the Department should acknowledge the particular urgency of reviewing safety assessments and related safety plans, which are key to determining whether or not to leave a child in a home.
In conjunction with the SDM Fidelity Review and the update of the Disposition of the Allegations policy, DCFS will develop a matrix outlining timeframes for supervisor and manager review of SDM Safety and Risk Assessments, home inspections, criminal clearances, and background checks.
To improve the accuracy of its assessments, the Department should require its supervisors to regularly review and evaluate assessments against available evidence and observations, and implement this process by July 2019.
The Department developed tools, and implemented a process in which each Assistant Regional Administrator is required to review and evaluate a sample of their supervisor’s work product to ensure accuracy of the assessment against available evidence and observations. Additionally, each office will use the Summary of Findings as coaching opportunities and reinforce expectations to improve staff performance.
To improve the quality of supervisors’ reviews and to allow it to hold supervisors accountable, the Department should, by May 2020, reduce the number of social workers assigned to each supervisor to at least the ratio specified in its union contract.
The Department will develop and implement a staffing plan to reduce the number of CSWs assigned to each SCSW to effectively align with the Span of Control as identified in the 2018 Memorandum of Understanding, Bargaining Unit 777 - Supervising Children’s Social Worker, Article 44 – Caseloads, Section 1.
To strengthen and improve its quality control processes, the Department should do the following by November 2019:
- Follow through on its plan to create a quality improvement division and increase the number of cases it regularly reviews.
The Department is in the process of designing a Quality Improvement (QI) division. The centralized division will have QI teams conducting ongoing, uniform comprehensive assessments of referrals and cases from all its regional offices and special programs to address CSW assessments and practice skills. The reviews will also evaluate the roles of supervisors and managers.
- Establish a mechanism to identify and address case management problems that are prevalent and persistent among social workers, supervisors, and regional offices.
To better understand the internal and systemic constructs affecting service delivery and practices, the QI teams will evaluate practices and identify enhancements and/or necessary system changes that address operational issues to improve present case practices. Together with its QI partners (Risk Management Division, Quality Service Review, Core Practice Model, and Training), the teams will provide feedback regarding practice strengths/gaps and system barriers and support skill development of workers and supervisors.
- Implement a tracking system to monitor the implementation and results of recommendations resulting from child death reviews.
The Department will enhance its Child Fatality/Near Fatality (CF/NF) system so it better delineates action items and creates feedback loops with regional offices addressing issues noted on Summary of Findings reports. The system will include action items and note progress made towards addressing systemic issues identified in both case reviews and Administrative Review Round Tables.
Additionally, enhancements have been made in the past year to the Department’s review process to assist the regional offices with implementation of recommendations made as a result of child death reviews. A comprehensive Summary of Findings is sent at the end of each review to regional office administrations to be shared with SCSWs and CSWs detailing the strengths of the practices and how case practices can be further strengthened. Coaching guides, skill building tips, as well as suggested questions to be asked by CSWs when conducting investigations are provided to increase capacity. These tools enable workers to elicit better responses from families and build rapport to identify abuse and neglect, and determine what actions needs to be taken to ensure child safety.
Finally, supervisory issues identified will be specifically outlined in reports. Our primary objective is skill-building and increasing capacity with regional management and SCSWS. The goal is to provide tools to better assist CSWS with training, investigations, more comprehensive assessments, and identifying child safety, as well as how to assess for parents’ protective factors.
CALIFORNIA STATE AUDITOR’S COMMENT ON THE RESPONSE FROM THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES
To provide clarity and perspective, we are commenting on the department’s response to our audit. The number below corresponds with the number we have placed in the margin of the department’s response.
Although the department agreed with our findings and recommendations, some of the descriptions of its intended actions do not clearly outline how and when it will fully implement our recommendations. We look forward to receiving its 60‑day response to this report identifying its progress and plans for implementing our recommendations.