Audit finds state overpaid some foster families

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A new audit found serious lapses in how reimbursements were paid out to foster families, though state social workers say the problems have since been corrected.

Foster parents receive monthly payments from state and federal sources to help care for the children in their home. Additionally, parents are also eligible for mileage reimbursements, clothing vouchers and medical care - depending on the needs of the child.

Acting on a whistleblower's complaint, State Auditor Troy Kelley compiled a report on the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) documenting what he terms "unallowable expenditures" claimed by foster parents between 2009 and 2012. Of the 33 foster children surveyed, the auditor found 19 instances where reimbursements were made that lacked proper documentation or accounting, and likely should have never been issued.

Leilani McClure is a foster parent who says she frequently pays for her kids out of her own pocket instead of turning to the state. When she made a recent dental appointment for her 4-year-old, she says her only concern was his health and not whether the state would pay her back for mileage.

"I would be entitled to that, driving here for a dental appointment," she said.

The audit showed mileage reimbursements were one of the biggest problems statewide. Foster parents can get paid back for trips to the doctor or to the child's biological family members, but things like shopping trips and vacations don't count.

During the investigation, auditors found one parent who claimed to drive 240 miles in a single day when the route was only 30 miles. They also found 28 instances where mileage logs were missing entirely.

"There is a line of approval that you have to go through," McClure said "How they slip by, I don't know."

The report also found discrepancies with clothing allowances. The state issues a $200 voucher per child each year. The audit found a child who received $400 for clothing in three months.

The report also details a series of overpayments, including $1,774 given to a youth services worker and $836 paid to a child care provider. Additionally, investigators were unable to find receipts for a child's laptop that the foster parent wanted $500 for from the state.

All told, the audit identified about $5,000 in unsupported expenses for which foster parents received reimbursements. However, that sum only represents what was uncovered in a sample group of 33 foster children. No effort was made to get a statewide estimate on potential losses.

DSHS, which oversees the foster care program, has made changes since 2012 and says these issues have been corrected. To received reimbursements, exceptional costs now must be fully documented, and a more comprehensive mileage form has become standard.

The auditor says there's no proof any foster parent tried to cheat the system. McClure says it's not about the money for her.

"You have to come from your heart, and wanting to help and you can make an impact on that child's life," she said.