County supervisors voted to explore alternatives to the Children’s Trust Fund Unit, a group within the Department of Children and Family Services charged with raising money to fund toys, summer camp and other extras for foster kids.
A Recent Audit Found Serious Problems
A recent audit found that thousands of toys sat unused in a warehouse,
funds were mismanaged and other gifts went missing.
The county conducted the audit of the trust fund unit at the request of
Supervisors Could Disband The Unit
“We identified significant issues involving every aspect of CTFU’s
operations, including unaccounted-for donations and funding,” Auditor-
Controller John Naimo wrote in a May 8 letter to the board. “Many of these
issues were caused by a lack of management oversight, staff negligence, and
complete disregard for internal controls.”
Naimo recommended that the department consider disbanding the unit. He
suggested that partnering with outside nonprofits would be a better way to
raise funds to help children in the foster care system.
The Audit Findings Were “Egregious”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl agreed the audit findings were “egregious,”
but recommended that staffers consider restructuring the unit and instituting
more controls rather than eliminating it.
“Over the years, generous donations have been made to the unit,
intended to directly benefit our children in need,” Kuehl said.
Though the item was approved without comment, at least one advocacy
Some Say The Trust Fund Is Needed
“The Children’s Trust Fund is needed to enhance the lives of L.A.’s
children in foster care,” Jennifer Rexroad, a foster parent and executive
director of the California Alliance of Caregivers, responded in remarks
reported by the Los Angeles Times.
“It would be a tragedy if children suffered the loss of donations and
special opportunities meant for them,” she said.
The County Spends More Staffing The Fund Than The Unit Generates
The county spends at least $380,000 more every year to staff the Trust
Fund Unit than the group generates in fundraising, according to the audit.
The report said that in 2015, the unit paid out $336,000 for kids to
attend summer camp, but most camps weren’t accredited or licensed. Camps were
typically paid $350 per child regardless of the level of services.
Donations Were Mismanaged
Auditors also found multiple payments for the same child and payments
that covered costs for children who weren’t eligible or didn’t attend camp.
The previous year, during the “Spark of Love” toy drive, the unit
received at least 44,000 toys worth a total of $440,000, but some 7,000 of
those toys were languishing in a warehouse a year later, the audit found. And
about $122,000 in toys went to organizations that didn’t qualify as tax-exempt,
while eligible organizations were turned away.
LAFD Took Over The Toy Drive
The Los Angeles County Fire Department now oversees the toy drive.
About a quarter of $140,000 in tickets to ballgames and theme parks went
missing or were issued to outside entities instead of to foster kids.
Other in-kind donations could not be tracked down.
Some Donations Can Not Be Tracked Down
“We identified unaccounted-for sports memorabilia and jewelry valued at
$8,400, that could not be located, and there was no documentation available
indicating that the items were included in a raffle or auction,” according to
DCFS Acting Director Brandon Nichols said the department took “swift
action when informed of the developing findings by the auditor-controller,”
including instituting new controls.
The Manager Resigned
The lead manager of the trust fund resigned shortly after the audit
process began, and a new manager hired in June 2015 reports to the senior
deputy director of DCFS. Another staffer who appeared to bear some
responsibility for the problems was transferred to another division and does
not handle cash or any fiscal duties.
The Board Asked For Another Report
Nichols said DCFS has been evaluating the costs and benefits of
operating the CTFU and exploring potential partnerships.
The board asked for a report back from the county chief executive
officer in 60 days.
City News Service.
Photo by: STILLFX