The fifth and final audit of Utah's child-welfare services found little had changed in a system that for four years has wrangled with a national advocacy group.
An independent monitoring panel charged with overseeing the state's compliance to a court settlement in the David C. vs. Leavitt case released the audit. It came just one day after U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell issued a decision that will allow the 1994 settlement to expire, giving the Utah Division of Child and Family Services the autonomy officials have long wanted.Four times, the monitoring panel has audited the division, which was sued in 1993 by the National Center for Youth Law in San Francisco for neglecting children in foster care. Each time the panel found the state badly out of compliance with the agreement. The division requested the fifth audit believing the most current numbers would give a more accurate and positive view of DCFS.
Even the newest numbers do little to bolster the state's claims of a changed system. The conclusions were not much different from the last audit of the division, released in April.
After auditing 1,767 cases, the monitoring panel found little significant change from what was found in the 1997 audit. The state continues to be out of compliance on "crucial" case actions 76 percent of the time.
There are some slight improvements but none that could be characterized as trends or breakthroughs, the audit states.
Pamela Atkinson, who has volunteered more than 2,400 hours on the case since she was asked to be on the monitoring panel in 1994, said the state should have made more progress. She added the state may have improved services but a lack of documentation by DCFS workers continues to be a problem. If a caseworker doesn't document a service, the division doesn't get credit for it.
Areas where changes were noted include more licensed foster homes and a stabilization of the number of children in foster care. However, the audit found a decrease in "flexible funds," money used to address the individual needs of foster children.
The monitoring panel, with input from the state, is putting together a comprehensive plan for the division to follow once the agreement is allowed to expire Aug. 28. Atkinson said the plan will be available in two weeks.