UPDATE, June 11, 2013: The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today to cancel its decades-long relationship with Teens Happy Homes (see story below)...
Under the terms of the decision, the county will give Teens 90 days' notice that its contract is being terminated. The contract allows the county to terminate the relationship with no need to show cause and no penalty for taxpayers, county officials said.
UPDATE, June 8, 2013: Garrett Therolf of the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that the Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey "is considering whether criminal charges should be filed against officials at Teens Happy Homes" (background story below),... according to spokeswoman Jane Robison....
"We've read the press reports and we've heard the allegations," said Max Huntsman, at left, the unit's second highest-ranking prosecutor. "We're going to carefully examine what happened or didn't happen."
UPDATE, June 6, 2013: Los Angeles County Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Gloria Molina were unable to win passage Tuesday of a measure to sever ties to a foster care contractor with a history of substantiated child abuse and financial malfeasance. The board had been scheduled to take a vote on the county's relationship with Teens Happy Homes [see backstory below the jump]... Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky asked that the item be considered at next Tuesday's meeting. Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe were absent. (Report by Garrett Therolf in the Los Angeles Times, June 5, 2013.)
UPDATE, May 23, 2013: Despite the call of Michael Nash, the presiding judge of L.A. County's Juvenile Court, and Leslie Starr Heimov, who leads the court-appointed firm representing foster children, for the LA County Board of Supervisors to sever its contract with privately owned Teens Happy Homes, a foster-home subcontractor, the board moved the item to a closed-door session where the proposal died, at least temporarily. As Garrett Therolf of the Los Angeles Times reported, "A spokeswoman for [Supervisor Mark] Ridley-Thomas, at left, declined to say why he removed the item from the public schedule."
UPDATE, May 16, 2013: Continuing its investigative reporting on Los Angeles County's "decades long" relationship with Teens Happy Homes, a private agency that secures foster homes under a $3.6 million annual contract from the county and that has been responsible for the placement of over 1,100 in more than 1,100 children over the years, the Los Angeles Times, in a story by reporter Garrett Therolf, posted Tuesday that the county board of supervisors has agreed to stop sending children to the agency.
Above, Mark Ridley-Thomas, member of the LA County Board of Supervisors and representative of the South Los Angeles district where Teens Happy Homes is located.
...The county now is considering even stronger action to terminate its relationship with Teens. Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Gloria Molina urged the county to cancel its contract and remove all children from the agency's care.
Under Teens Happy Homes' contract, the supervisors can terminate the relationship without cause or penalty, according to a [County Dept. of Children & Family Services] spokeswoman. Los Angeles County almost entirely funds Teens' budget — up to $3.6 million a year.
Michael Nash, the presiding judge of L.A. County's Juvenile Court, and Leslie Starr Heimov, who leads the court-appointed law firm representing foster children, have called on the supervisors to sever the contract.
That action can be taken, Heimov said, without having to disrupt the placement of children whose foster parents are providing good care. "If the parents meet standards," she said, "the county needs to assist them with a new certification by a new contractor. The county has successfully managed large, sudden closures of contractors in the past."
The now three-year-long audit of Teens' alleged financial abuses probably will not be officially released for another four months because of potential appeals...
UPDATE, May 1, 2013: The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors reported no action after a closed-door meeting yesterday to consider terminating the county's decades-long relationship with Teens Happy Homes, a private foster care provider that officials say repeatedly misused funds and placed children in homes where they were abused (see earlier story below), according to Los Angeles Times reporter Garrett Therolf.
Department of Children and Family Services Director Philip Browning was instructed after Tuesday's meeting to prepare options to correct the problems, according to a person familiar with the discussion.
April 28, 2013: There are 50 private contractors, all non-profit charities, that provide foster home services to Los Angeles County. Typically, according to the lead story in today's Los Angeles Times by Garrett Therolf, these contractors finances are audited by the state and county "once a decade." Other practies of the agecies are "only loosely monitored."
In the spotlight in today's story was Teens Happy Homes, which, when audited ten years ago received a "damning assessment" with the conclusion that the county "needed to give Teens closer supervision or cancel its contract." (According to the agency's website: "Teens Happy Home, Inc is licenced [sic] by the State of California Community Care Licensing Division and contracted with the LA County Department of Children and Family Services Licence [sic] Number: 197805780")
Not only did the county Board of Supervisors continue the Teens contract but it tripled its value, from $1 million a year to as much as $3.6 million, according to the agency's tax returns. Between 2008 and 2011, 1,154 children lived in its homes..
Robert Fellmeth, director of the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, said the long delay in reviewing the agency is indicative of the state and county's inattention to private foster care agencies that were created over 25 years ago.
"There are some clear failures indicating the need for financial auditing and performance oversight," Fellmeth said. "There is a need for systemic reform in this regulatory scheme."...
The routine audit of Teens in 2003 faced problems from the beginning. Shortly before auditors arrived, a sewage backup destroyed many financial records. The remaining documents painted a picture of financial chaos.
There were canceled checks showing the agency repeatedly bought cigarettes and beer with foster care money — in one instance, 30 cases' worth. There was $46,000 in unpaid federal payroll taxes. The agency's bookkeeper wrote $13,000 in checks to herself. "The agency was unable to explain the nature of these expenditures," auditors wrote...
In the end, auditors told county officials they "should consider whether to continue contracting with this agency due to the nature of these financial issues."
But the agency retained its contract, and the auditor-controller never completed another financial audit to see if problems had been fixed.
The problems at Teens Happy Homes weren't just financial.
Over a three-year period, 240 allegations of abuse or neglect were filed on behalf of youths at Teens' homes, a Times analysis of child abuse hotline data found. Teens' rate of nearly two allegations for each home was more than two times the average for the state and two-thirds higher than that of the rest of Los Angeles County....
At a Teens board meeting in 2010, a management consultant for the agency, Jorge Gutierrez, told the directors that children dying didn't necessarily spell peril for foster care contractors, according to a tape secretly recorded by a former employee, Askari Moyenda, and provided to The Times.