Audit: North Dakota agency failed to conduct timely checks on alleged child abuse victims – InForum
BISMARCK — The North Dakota Department of Social Services has consistently failed to conduct timely checks on alleged victims of child abuse and neglect, according to an audit released Tuesday, Aug. 16. This is the third time in six years that the agency has been flagged for publishing it.
The report released by State Auditor Josh Gallion reveals that the agency failed to follow its own policy to quickly establish direct contact with children suspected of abuse or neglect.
Ministry policy states that social service workers, law enforcement, court staff or medical personnel are expected to meet with children who may have been abused. The response time required for these meetings varies from 1 to 14 days depending on the seriousness of the alleged abuse.
Of the 60 cases reviewed by the auditors, DHS failed to verify more than two-thirds of the children on time.
“Types of cases (reviewed by auditors) included physical injuries such as marks or cuts, educational neglect, illegal substances used during pregnancy or in front of children, suicidal children and sexual abuse,” according to the report. ‘audit.
In the most serious cases where officials should have seen the children within 24 hours, the agency has an average response time of 13 days.
Gallion’s office recommended in the audit that the department ensure more timely meetings with alleged victims of child abuse. Gallion declined to comment further on the audit when contacted by Forum News Service, saying he would take questions at a press conference on Wednesday.
Public audits in 2017 and 2019 revealed the same issue to DHS.
The Department of Social Services agreed with Gallion’s recommendation and said “extreme staff turnover” is to blame for the problem, according to the audit.
“The Department is processing as many cases as staff are able to handle. Staff are processing cases in order of severity,” the agency’s response said.
DHS said it plans to ask state lawmakers next year for more full-time employees to better manage the workload.
Neither DHS Director Chris Jones nor a spokesperson for Governor Doug Burgum immediately responded to a request for comment.
The audit also found that the Department of Social Services:
- Wrongly paid about $1 million for services under a public drug treatment program that ran out of money in 2020. Funds could have been covered by Medicaid, auditors say. DHS accepted the finding and said it hired a new employee to fix the problem.
- Underpaid employees at the state hospital and life skills and transition center totaling $132,000. DHS disagreed with auditors that employees were underpaid.
- Distributed $157,000 in bonuses to employees who were not eligible to receive them. DHS said the bonuses were justified for employees who spent more time caring for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Read the full audit report here: