The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to consider a motion Tuesday to explore alternatives to the Children’s Trust Fund Unit, an arm of the Department of Children and Family Services charged with raising money for foster kids’ needs not covered by other sources.
The trust fund has helped provide foster children with holiday gifts and trips to summer camp, but a recent audit found that thousands of toys weren’t given out, inappropriate payments were made and fundraising efforts were largely ineffective.
The county conducted an audit of the trust fund unit at the request of department management, who had concerns about whether it generated enough revenue to justify its staffing costs. The audit findings released last week show that the unit lacked oversight and disregarded internal controls, leading to unaccounted-for and misspent donations.
The county spends at least $380,000 more every year to staff the Trust Fund Unit than the group generates in fundraising, according to the audit.
The report said that in 2015, the unit paid out $336,000 for kids to attend summer camp, but most camps weren’t accredited or licensed, and every camp received the same rate per child, regardless of the camp’s duration or the services it offered, the report said. The unit also allegedly made multiple payments for the same children, for children who did not attend and for children who were ineligible.
The year prior, during the “Spark of Love” toy drive, the unit received at least 44,000 toys worth a total of $440,000, but some 7,000 of those toys languished in a warehouse a year later, the audit found. Another 2,500 toys couldn’t be accounted for and 12,000 went to organizations without the required tax-exempt status while eligible nonprofits were denied the items.
Additionally, about a quarter of $140,000 in tickets to ballgames and theme parks, for example, went missing or were issued to outside entities instead of to foster kids.
In a letter to the board, Auditor-Controller John Naimo recommended that the department consider disbanding the unit.
“The Children’s Trust Fund is needed to enhance the lives of L.A.’s children in foster care,” Jennifer Rexroad, a foster parent and executive director of the California Alliance of Caregivers, an advocacy group, responded in remarks reported by the Los Angeles Times. “It would be a tragedy if children suffered the loss of donations and special opportunities meant for them.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl says the county should think twice before eliminating the trust fund.
“Over the years, generous donations have been made to the unit, intended to directly benefit our children in need,” Kuehl said.
Though she agreed the findings were “egregious,” the supervisor said restructuring the unit and instituting more controls might better serve foster children.
—City News Service