California officials mishandled child-abuse program, audit says


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California state officials have mismanaged a program aimed at preventing childhood injuries and abuse, spending too much on administration and allowing a disruption in grant funds when a contract lapsed, the state auditor found Tuesday.

The report by state auditor Elaine Howle focused on the state’s Kids’ Plates Program, which allows Californians to buy special license plates with themes including ‘Have a Heartand ‘Be a Star’ to help raise up to $1.5 million annually for grants to programs preventing childhood injuries and abuse.


The audit found that the Department of Health Services and the Department of Public Health violated state law by hiring a private contractor, the San Diego State University Research Foundation, to manage the Kids’ Plates Program from 2004 to 2010. The law prohibits use of private contractors when state employees can do the work.

In 2010, the state realized the violation and ended the contract. ‘Because the research foundation had been operating without a contract, it was not able to award any grants to prevent unintentional childhood injuries between July 2010 and May 2011,’ Howle wrote in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders.

In addition, roughly 40% of the money provided during a four-year period, or nearly $2.1 million, was spent on the research foundation’s administrative costs for the Kids’ Plates Program.

She said the foundation filed a $300,000 claim for administrative services and was paid the money by the state.

‘Nearly two years after it stopped contracting with the research foundation, Public Health awarded 115 grants to community agencies, but it did not comply with its own contracting procedures when it awarded these grants,’ Howle wrote. [Updated at 3:33 pm to include department response.]

The California Department of Public Health is working to implement the recommendations of the audit, said agency spokeswoman Anita Gore. ``The current administration at CDPH is working to ensure that the funds are used as they are intended and is utilizing the (audit) report findings to prompt review of its contract management procedures.’’


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