The state agency responsible for investigating reports of child abuse and neglect needs to do a better job, state auditors said Tuesday.
In a critical report of Child Protective Services, the state Auditor General’s Office said these investigations are a "critical first step’’ to ensuring that children are safe. And state law requires all reports to be checked out.
But auditors found that was not always the case.
"Some reports were not investigated,’’ the report said. "And reports that were investigated did not meet statutory or division requirements for timeliness and thoroughness.’’
Despite that, Auditor General Debra Davenport said the agency has been reporting to the Legislature that it has, in fact, been investigating every complaint.
Davenport said agency workers told her auditors that they are facing unmanageable workloads, staff turnover, and the limited experience of some supervisors and investigators.
"However, since these factors are likely to continue, additional meaningful changes are needed, including streamlining the investigation process and establishing effective oversight and accountability mechanisms,’’ Davenport said.
David Berns, director of the state Department of Economic Security, which oversees CPS, acknowledged there are a small number of reports that have not been investigated.
In fact, Berns said, his own staff found several more that auditors had not turned up. In each case, he said, CPS investigators were told to locate the families and complete a safety and risk assessment of the children.
Berns said, though, his agency will implement a series of changes suggested by Davenport to prevent future problems.
Davenport acknowledged the sheer numbers of complaints the agency faces: Between July 2002 and March 2005 there were 92,267 reports of abuse or neglect received.
Out of that, auditors said 920 of these files were missing both the date the
investigator responded as well as the investigator’s findings, "which raised questions about whether these reports had been investigated.’’
Her auditors then took 15 of those files at random and found three which clearly had never been investigated: One involving a complaint of sexual abuse by a parent of his 10-year-old daughter and two others alleging physical abuse.
Even among the rest of those 920 files, Davenport said there was evidence that investigations had occurred only within the past few months "even though the reports had been received months or even years earlier.’’ It was also unclear if other investigations were conducted or complete.