Los Angeles County officials said Wednesday that they were launching a review of the criminal clearance process for foster parents selected by private agencies following a Times report that included information about children killed or maimed by caregivers previously convicted of crimes.
Under current policy, Department of Children and Family Services social workers responsible for placing children in foster homes have no way to check the criminal histories of employees and foster parents who have been approved by private outside contractors, county officials said.
DCFS Director Philip Browning said he was considering changes to county contracts to require private agencies to disclose the histories, but he said access to more reliable state databases would probably require the help of lawmakers in Sacramento.
"I think it would require new legislation," he said.
The Times has reported on a convicted forger who mishandled tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars as the chief executive of a private foster care agency, a convicted thief who later murdered a foster child and a woman convicted of fraud who later caused debilitating burns to a girl in her care. Each had received a special waiver from the California Department of Social Services to enter the foster care system.
"Our concern is that there are homes out there and employees out there that have received these waivers from the state and we don't know about them," said Armand Montiel, spokesman for the county department.
The state has granted 5,314 waivers across California and 1,416 in Los Angeles County.
Browning said he was also concerned that the county has come to heavily rely on the contractors to provide foster families for about 5,000 abused and neglected children. He said he was in Sacramento on Wednesday to hold conversations with state officials in hopes of establishing more homes directly recruited by the government.
"One of the things we need to do is shorten the amount of time it takes to become a state-licensed home," Browning said, adding that an overhaul of the process is being planned.
"Until we really looked at this issue," he said, "I don't think anyone had realized that the process is taking folks eight months before they become approved — far more time than it takes to be approved by a private foster family agency."
Overall, state-licensed homes have a lower rate of abuse, according to a Times analysis, and operate at a lower cost to taxpayers, according to an analysis by the state auditor. But the county's available state-licensed homes have dramatically diminished and only care for about 1,000 children.
Browning said he also was considering changes to the county's contract with private agencies to require them to provide notice when a social worker obtains any additional employment.
The county now has no reliable means to track whether private social workers are complying with rules limiting them to oversight of 15 foster children at a time, and The Times found that numerous private social workers have violated the cap, according to work records filed with the state.
"We require county employees to notify us when they obtain other employment. Maybe we should do the same for these outside workers," he said.
Finally, county officials said they hoped to use privately donated money to provide a burial marker for a slain foster child, Viola Vanclief.
In 2010, Vanclief was killed by Kiana Barker, a foster mother certified by a private foster family agency, and her remains were buried in an unmarked grave in Carson.