State Department of Social Services officials say that most of the state's 4,497 board-and-care homes are in good standing, despite the media spotlight on the troubled Dahlia Gardens Guest Home in El Monte.
State officials and others who work with the mentally ill offered these suggestions for families who want to get information on board-and-care homes:
* Check state licensing reports. Call the state office a couple of days ahead so the report will be ready when you arrive. When you call, ask to see all "incident reports," which homes file when there is an unusual occurrence, such as a death or assault. Incident reports are not included in public files but are available upon request, with confidential information blacked out. For the San Gabriel Valley, the local office is at 9650 Flair Drive, Suite 150, El Monte, (818) 450-6201. Also, at the licensing office, ask for a free copy of regulations for board-and-care homes.
* If you don't have time to check state licensing, ask the home for its state licensing reports. Red flags should go up if the home says no.
* Visit at different times of the day and on different days of the week. Homes are usually well staffed during the day, while supervision at night is most sparse.
* Visit during critical times, such as meal, activity and medication time. Be nosy. Look in the refrigerator. Ask if activities include anything except coloring. Ask what happens when a resident throws his medication on the floor and refuses to take it. Talk to staff, residents and the home's neighbors.
* Visit several places for comparison.
* Among those to call for advice: L.A. County social workers, (818) 821-5858; the San Gabriel Valley Alliance for the Mentally Ill, (818) 577-6697; the state ombudsman program, which tries to negotiate disputes between residents and homes, (800) 334-9473.