Youth in group homes exposed to hazards, report finds
Federal auditors recently faulted Kansas’ Department for Children and Families for allowing residents of its foster care group homes to be chronically exposed to potentially hazardous conditions, even though the state regularly inspected the facilities.
The audit uncovered rodent droppings near dishes and under a kitchen sink, bare electrical wires in closets, a heater plugged in dangerously close to a child’s bed, boarded windows, trashed playgrounds, nails protruding from wooden fence gates, noncompliant fire extinguishers and other violations of state and federal licensing requirements.
Only a small fraction of the more than 7,000 children in foster care in Kansas live in group settings, which are often filled with older youth that agencies struggle to place with foster parents. But negative group home experiences were a common theme among the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit that was filed in 2018 against the state system – the state last month agreed to a settlement in that case.
In one instance, auditors uncovered “a gas heater that was hooked up with an exposed natural gas line that ran through a foster child’s room, an electric heater that was plugged in next to another child’s bed, and old, exposed electrical wiring. The exposed natural gas lines in a child’s bedroom constituted serious hazards to the children’s health and safety.”
The audit, released last week by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), followed inspections in 2018 and 2019. It covered the 31 group homes licensed to care for between five and 24 people in foster care.
Nearly all of the problems were found in more than one group home, and in some cases, they indicated “an extended period of substandard maintenance,” the audit found.
The inspector general faulted the state’s Department for Children’s and Family Services for a lack of adequate oversight of the privately run homes. It said Kansas inspected the facilities regularly but sometimes did not ensure that operators had fixed problems identified in the state’s own inspections.
In the larger picture, the HHS inspector general found that 24 of the 31 foster care group homes inspected did not comply with at least one environmental requirement.
Another major finding was that 29 of the 31 homes didn’t comply with background record check requirements for some employees. While it did not contend that no criminal and sexual abuse background checks had been run, but rather the homes’ operators were not able to show that the records were up to date and timely, and faulted the state agency for inadequate controls.
In its response, the state agency disagreed with some of the inspector general’s findings and noted that in many cases it had already taken steps to correct violations before the report came out.
HHS modified some of its findings as a result of the response but did not alter the recommendations it made for the state to improve its procedures. It also noted that foster care group homes are “highly susceptible” to environmental damage. It noted, as well, that many states have had similar problems in their group homes.