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Report Number : 2016-126

California Department of Social Services
Its Caregiver Background Check Bureau Lacks Criminal History Information It Needs to Protect Vulnerable Populations in Licensed Care Facilities

March 14, 2017 2016-126

The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
State Capitol
Sacramento, California 95814

Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:

As requested by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the California State Auditor presents this audit report concerning the timeliness and quality of the California Department of Social Services’ (Social Services) background check process for individuals who have contact with clients of facilities it licenses (licensed facility).We also assessed whether the California Department of Justice (Justice) was sending all of the necessary and appropriate criminal history information to Social Services for the background checks.

This report concludes that Social Services does not receive all of the information it needs to protect vulnerable clients. For example, in 2016 Justice stopped sharing sentencing information with Social Services because Justice determined that state law does not explicitly require it to share the information. In addition, Social Services and four other state departments within the California Health and Human Services Agency do not effectively or promptly share information with one another about the administrative actions they each take against individuals although state law intends for them to do so. Therefore, these five departments do not have access to information that could help them protect vulnerable populations.

We also found that Social Services does not review all required information before it issues an exemption that allows an individual to be present in a licensed facility. This includes convictions for relatively minor crimes known as infractions and individuals’ self-disclosed convictions, which both would help Social Services better assess the risk individuals may pose to clients in its facilities. In addition, in 17 of the 18 background check cases we reviewed, Social Services did not consider all required information when it made exemption decisions and therefore its decisions could be questioned. Further, state law allows Social Services to grant exemptions for convictions of eight crimes that are similar in nature to other crimes that are nonexemptible. As a result, from fiscal year 2013–14 through 2015–16, Social Services allowed more than 40 individuals with arrests or convictions for these crimes to be present in licensed facilities. 

Finally, we found that delays at Justice and Social Services extend the amount of time it takes Social Services to issue exemption decisions. Our review shows that Justice does not always provide Social Services with criminal history information within the 14-day time frame required by law. Social Services also had significant delays when processing exemptions, as well as when conducting investigations of individuals who have been arrested for certain crimes, and pursuing legal actions against individuals. Once it finalizes a decision that excludes an individual from a licensed facility, Social Services does not always conduct a site visit to verify that excluded individuals have left the facility.

We make a number of recommendations to the Legislature that we believe would improve the background check process, including amending state law to require Justice to send Social Services all necessary information for making exemption decisions and designating eight additional crimes as nonexemptible. We also recommend Social Services develop and monitor against time frame processing goals for conducting its background check reviews and taking legal actions against individuals.

Respectfully submitted,

State Auditor

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