When a young person can't be with their parents, for whatever reason, it's always a turbulent time.
The Department of Children and Families sometimes tries to ease the transition by placing the child with a relative or friend, and the state helps that new guardian with a monthly stipend to pay the additional bills, called Subsidized Guardianship.
Among the other rules is a condition that the payments stop when the child turns 18, unless they're in school, then it's supposed to stop at 21.
However, the Eyewitness News I-Team found that for a half dozen families in the program, the payments didn’t stop.
The money kept coming, even though it was no longer deserved, and by the time DCF caught on, there was $107,000 missing.
The I-Team confirmed that the money was missing through a lost property report from the state comptroller’s office.
It said the payments weren't stopped because of a lack of automation and a turnover in staff.
A DCF employee should have been checking the recipient’s ages, but no one did, and the total overpayment was $107,833.16.
A DCF spokesman confirmed the error but defended the program and said it's important and has helped reduce the number of young people in state care.
The spokesperson said in each case, the family originally deserved the money, but kept getting paid after they no longer qualified for the program.
The agency sent the I-Team a statement:
"The department takes very seriously the responsibility to properly utilize and manage the public funding entrusted to it. That’s why we are working to automate the system for issuing payments in the subsidized guardianship, so that they end automatically when the youth reaches the cutoff age. In addition, one of the families has already begun to pay back the excess payment. We continue to seek repayment from all the families.
This program is a valuable service that provides permanent family homes for hundreds of deserving youth in foster care, and it’s one way the department has been able to reduce the number of children in care by more than 16 percent since 2011. It is our duty to protect the integrity of the program, to maintain public confidence in its management, and to sustain its long-term effectiveness – and we have and will continue to make every effort to recoup overpayments however possible."
State Senator Len Fasano is a longtime critic of DCF and has called for the commissioner to resign, citing both management and operational issues.
“Nobody is watching the store and the reason is there's no accountability at the state level and we need to bring that into focus,” Fasano said.
DCF said one of the families has already made arrangements to repay the money, but the state is still working to reach the others.
If the families don't repay it voluntarily, the cases will be turned over to another state agency that handles collections.
They'll try to force them to give it back.
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