CIVIC CENTER — The city's Administration for Children's Services has been grossly mismanaging detention facilities connected to a juvenile justice reform program, shirking its responsibility to meet with kids and their parents and failing to monitor service providers, a new city comptroller audit found.
The slip-ups and sloppy record-keeping identified in the audit show that children in the city's Close to Home program are at risk of being left in unsafe conditions, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said Thursday.
"Every child in the Close to Home program deserves a chance to get back on the right track, but the Administration for Children's Services mismanagement and hands-off approach to oversight is robbing them of that opportunity," he said. "The leadership of ACS has abdicated its responsibility to provide oversight of this program by not holding Close to Home providers accountable."
The Close to Home program launched in 2012 in hopes of moving the city's juvenile offenders out of poorly run state facilities and into ACS-managed detention centers that are nearer to their families and their home communities.
The comptroller's audit examined fiscal years 2014 and 2015, during which time 560 kids and teens were in the program. While ACS spends an average of $169,480 per participant in the program, the agency showed major deficiencies in running it, the audit says.
As part of the program, participants are supposed to receive a phone call from ACS staff within the first week of entering a detention center. Yet auditors who sampled the cases of nine children in the program found that only one received the initial call.
The auditors found that only six of the nine kids had a required in-person meeting with ACS staff within the first two weeks of entering the program.
ACS also failed to involve the parents of participants in the program, the audit says.
The agency said in a statement on Friday that it had made improvements to its oversight over the past year.
“The safety of our young people — and communities — is paramount," the ACS statement says. "The NYC Comptroller’s audit concluded in June 2015 and, over the past year, ACS has taken numerous steps to improve monitoring and oversight of Close to Home. We have added experienced staff to monitor the safety of programs, enlisted the NYPD to assess security at all Close to Home sites, and, since 2013, we have shut down three programs that were unable to adhere to our standards.”
The parents or guardians of participants are supposed to have an in-person meeting with ACS staff within the first 60 days of their kid entering the program. But only one out of nine participants' parents had the meeting, according to the audit.
The detention centers in the program are non-secure and limited-secure facilities. They are run by nonprofit service providers, whom ACS is supposed to monitor.
The city agency is required to make one announced and one unannounced visit annually to each Close to Home facility. The intent of the inspections is so ACS can identify security concerns, review incident logs and evaluate a provider.
But the audit found two-thirds of Close to Home facilities did not receive unannounced visits in 2014.
The audit also says that ACS did not track if and when a visit took place. The agency also needed two months to provide auditors with a calendar of upcoming site visits, according to the audit.
“It’s outrageous that the city agency in charge of this program has no idea if windows are locked, children are behaving, or staff are doing their jobs," Stringer said. "With children as young as 7 years old in this program, it is unacceptable that no one can say definitively that these sites are safe."
DNAinfo New York previously reported that ACS had botched two renovations of Close to Home facilities by circumventing city procurement rules to hire a contractor.
Transcripts of secret recordings between ACS officials and the contractor showed that the illegal deal was the result of intense pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, City Hall and the agency's commissioner to get Close to Home facilities up and running quickly.
The comptroller's audit comes on the heels of a scathing Department of Investigation report that found systemic problems in ACS's oversight of Close to Home facilities and gross negligence in addressing security lapses at sites.
The DOI probe was opened after three teens at a non-secure Close to Home facility run by the nonprofit Boys Town escaped from the center and, according to Manhattan prosecutors, raped an intoxicated woman.