Audit Shows State Regulators Allowed Daycares to Operate Despite Evidence of Drug Use, Child Abuse

North Dakota Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple listens to testimonies during the Economic Development and Commerce Committee meeting at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington,in this file photo from February 22, 2014. REUTERS / Mike Theiler

Earlier this month we saw the dismissal of criminal charges against Maggie Anderson, the director of the North Dakota Department of Human Services and member of Governor Jack Dalrymple’s cabinet. Those charges were related to an investigation into the drowning death of a young girl while in the care of a daycare facility in Velva. The state Bureau of Criminal Investigation alleged that Anderson and a group of other DHS employees had been uncooperative with their investigation.

While the dropping of those charges may have been appropriate (I have thoughts on that here), a bombshell audit out today paints an ugly picture of how DHS has been operating in terms of regulating early childhood services.

Grand Forks Herald reporter John Hageman has a detailed story up right now. You can read the full audit below. An excerpt from Hageman’s piece:

An audit of the North Dakota Department of Human Services found child care providers were allowed to continue operating while the state’s largest agency was aware of instances of illegal drug use and “inappropriate touching from adults.”

That’s one finding included in the 49-page report, which was completed by the State Auditor’s office and covered the biennium that ended June 30, 2015. It was sent to Gov. Jack Dalrymple, members of the North Dakota Legislature and Maggie Anderson, the DHS executive director, according to a July 13 letter signed by State Auditor Robert R. Peterson.

The report included several concerns over early childhood services licensing, for which county licensors act as the authorized agent for DHS, the audit said. County licensors make recommendations to DHS regional supervisors for issuing licenses.

The audit said the department’s “monitoring procedures performed by the central and regional offices are ineffective.” Its early childhood services administrator and regional supervisors review county licensor activities, it added.

Read Hageman’s entire article. He does a really good job of laying out the issues here.

Here’s a particularly damning excerpt from page 29 of the audit. And by “particularly damning” I mean it’s indefensible.

auditThe subject of a state audit is allowed to respond to each finding of the auditors. Typically these responses are used to dispute the auditor’s findings if the state agency being audited finds them mistaken or exaggerated. This happens often in these audits, so noteworthy that the response from DHS to the above finding does not dispute it in any way:

dhsresponse

Just so we’re clear, the DHS allowed child care facilities to continue operating despite instances of child abuse, neglect, drug use, inappropriate touching from adults, and sexual play between children. Not only that, but DHS didn’t even bother to notify parents when they had knowledge of what was going on.

The auditors put it bluntly: “The Department of Human Services is not properly monitoring or suspending providers and notifying parents after confirmed knowledge of activities that jeopardize the health and safety of children.”

Keep in mind that the death of that young girl in Velva was related to overcrowding at her daycare which, in turn, was overlooked by state licensing officials. Meaning this lax adherence to the law has already cost one child her life. Now we learn that this sort of thing is apparently systemic.

That’s not something for which some policy tweaks are an adequate response.

There are numerous other issues flagged by the auditors in the report below, which is worth your time to read. But there isn’t a finding worse, in my mind, than the one above.

I don’t see how we can continue to trust the current leadership at DHS after this sort of widespread dereliction of duty.

Dalrymple needs to find a new leader for the department.

And maybe Dalrymple can ask Anderson to return that $27,692 bonus she got last year while he’s at it.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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