Audit faults computer monitoring of foster kids

The Baltimore Sun

The troubled and costly implementation of "Chessie," a statewide computer system to monitor child services, hampered the Department of Human Resources' ability to ensure compliance with state and federal foster care service requirements, according to a legislative audit released yesterday.

Chessie - the Children's Electronic Social Services Information Exchange - is designed to help keep track of nearly 10,000 foster children and 6,000 child protective services investigations. It cost more than $67 million in state and federal funds, including about $10 million to fix flaws.

The system was supposed to provide more information about a person's child services history, such as prior abuse and neglect complaints. But early implementation in 2006 revealed glitches so bad that some caseworkers had reverted to pen and paper.

Yesterday's audit found that the Chessie system failed to record placements for more than 2,500 foster children and recorded incorrect information for 16 of 28 foster children whom auditors tested.

"DHR appears to be making significant progress in keeping children in their homes safely ... but it is hard to understand the extent of this success without a credible information technology system," said Ameejill Whitlock, child welfare director for Baltimore-based Advocates for Children and Youth.

In a written response to the audit, the department said it has made "remarkable progress." By August, 90 percent of its active cases were on Chessie, up from 38 percent the year before. In December, the department will begin using Chessie to manage foster care payment - the system's last major hurdle.

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