Judge says L.A. should end contract with private foster agency

Judge says L.A. should end contract with private foster agency
The office of the Teens Happy Homes foster care agency in South Los Angeles. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The presiding judge of L.A. County's Juvenile Court and the head of a court-appointed law firm representing foster children have called on Los Angeles county supervisors to sever the county’s contract with Teens Happy Homes.
Starr Heimov, who leads the law firm, said the county can cut its ties with the home without having to disrupt the placement of children whose foster parents are providing good care.
"If the parents meet standards," she said, "the county needs to assist them with a new certification by a new contractor. The county has successfully managed large, sudden closures of contractors in the past."

County officials have already decided to stop sending children to the private foster care agency that has been responsible for more than 1,100 youths in recent years in response to new allegations of financial malfeasance and abuse.

That decision was made after an examination of Teens Happy Homes, published in The Times last month, revealed questionable spending and repeated instances of abuse.
Fresh allegations surfaced in an ongoing audit obtained by The Times that found at least $100,000 in suspect payments: Nearly $30,000 went toward chief executive Beautina "Tina" Robinson's personal expenses, including her car and credit card bills. An additional $70,000 covered the salaries of Robinson associates who did little or no work for the agency.
Additional records show that Maurice Mitchell, then president of the Teens Happy Homes board, retained his position while in jail before being convicted in a real estate scheme that involved identity theft, forged documents and more than $260,000 in stolen money.
Philip Browning, director of the Department of Children and Family Services, said he had not been aware of the allegations against Mitchell until they were brought to his attention in an interview.
Browning also was told of complaints of physical abuse from a former Teens foster child, who recently came forward after reading about the agency's problems in the newspaper.
Browning said the allegations will have to be confirmed. If true, "I can't imagine us being in business with people who have done this," he said.
Teens officials declined to comment on the latest audit findings and Browning's decision.
The county now is considering even stronger action to terminate its relationship with Teens. Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Gloria Molina urged the county to cancel its contract and remove all children from the agency's care.
The two supervisors have not been able to secure a needed third vote from the five-member board. Supervisors Don Knabe, Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents the South Los Angeles district where Teens is headquartered, declined to comment.
Under Teens Happy Homes' contract, the supervisors can terminate the relationship without cause or penalty, according to a DCFS spokeswoman. Los Angeles County almost entirely funds Teens' budget — up to $3.6 million a year.