Audit finds sex offenders living, working in foster care homes

Sex offenders are living or working in foster-care facilities and homes, according to a report released by the California State Auditor on Thursday.

The addresses of more than 1,000 registered sex offenders matched the addresses of licensed foster-care facilities and homes, auditors found. Almost 600 of those sex offenders were considered high risk.

"This is appalling," said Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, who requested the report because of concern about children who died in the child welfare system.

The report identified a number of factors imperiling children at risk, including a failure to thoroughly and promptly investigate reports of abuse and neglect. The auditor focused on Child Protective Services agencies in Sacramento, Fresno and Alameda counties.

"This report concludes that California can and must provide these children better protection and support," State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote in the report.

The Department of Social Services, which licenses facilities, found that much of the information on the sex-offender registry was outdated, sometimes by decades, said Michael Weston, a department spokesman.

Of the 1,062 names provided by the auditor, 39 required action by the department – either an order excluding someone from a facility, or licensing action against the facility. None of the actionable cases took place in Sacramento County.

Counties have separately taken action to remove children from homes or bar offenders from them.

The audit recommends that the Department of Social Services perform similar background checks to ensure vulnerable children aren't placed around sex offenders. A written reply from the department says it generally agrees with the recommendation, although it takes issue with the audit's method for indentifying sex offenders.

Bill Grimm, senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, said it's disturbing that the auditor and not Social Services found the problem with sex offenders.

He also noted problems at the county level.

"We can draw the conclusion that child abuse investigations are not being done in some cases with professional standards," he said.

The audit found problems with the handling of critical cases in Sacramento, Fresno and Alameda counties. Los Angeles County also was selected for review, but officials there refused to provide information requested by the auditor.

In one Fresno County case highlighted in the report, child welfare workers failed to protect a child despite five reports about alleged abuse, including one from a deputy sheriff. The child, 10-year-old Seth Ireland, was eventually beaten to death, which prompted Perea's concern.

The report found that Sacramento County had the highest number of deaths of children who had previous involvement with the child welfare system, out of the three counties reviewed.

From 2008 to 2010, 15 children with prior abuse or neglect allegations died from subsequent abuse or neglect in Sacramento County. That compares with five such deaths in Fresno County and four in Alameda County.

Auditors detailed several cases in which Sacramento County social workers made questionable decisions in cases that ultimately resulted in death. The report found that the county hasn't always reviewed such cases, or followed through on the lessons from them.

For instance, in one case that went unreviewed, CPS failed to put children in protective custody for 11 days even though their mother had allegedly killed one of her children, the audit found.

The agency has learned from some child fatalities, the report noted. In one case, a social worker conducted a "cursory" body check of a child and concluded no abuse had occurred, despite a report of abuse from a doctor. The child died from abuse a month later.

The agency later determined that such cursory body checks did not meet its policies.

Health and Human Services Director Ann Edwards said she generally agrees with the audit's findings, which mirror past reports on the agency. She also said the county now reviews its handling of all fatalities in the child welfare system.