State to decide on contract that affects 157 Maryland foster children

Maryland officials plan to announce this week whether the state will sever ties with the state's second-largest foster care provider, a decision that also could determine whether the company keeps its contract in the District of Columbia.

Officials with the Maryland Department of Human Resources, the agency charged with protecting the state's 7,400 foster children, is expected to announce a decision on renewing the license for Contemporary Family Services. The Hyattsville company's contract in D.C. depends on it retaining its Maryland license, according to officials with the District of Columbia's Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

In the past decade, Contemporary Family Services has served more than 700 children. The company is one of about 80 foster care providers in the state. The providers match foster homes with children, many of whom have been abused or neglected. The company's two-year license renewal is due in March.

The company has been barred from making new foster care placements since earlier this month and is under investigation by the Department of Human Resources' inspector general, according to the agency.

"The department is currently reviewing our relationship with Contemporary Family Services," said agency spokesman Ian Patrick Hines. He said the state's first priority is to protect the 157 foster children in company's care.

The state sanctioned the company last month after finding it did not track criminal background checks, first-aid training and other requirements for a portion of its 232 foster parents. The lack of the documentation of the foster parents' annual certifications put the children at risk because the documentation confirms a foster parent is qualified, according to the Department of Human Resources.

The agency began investigating the company's finances last year after an independent audit raised red flags, according to correspondence from the state to Contemporary Family Services. The audit found that company money was used to pay personal expenses for executives. It also noted that the company owed $2.8 million in back taxes and fees to the IRS. The company reached an agreement in December with the IRS for a repayment plan.

Nancy Kay Blackwell, president of the board of directors for Contemporary Family Services, said in a statement that the company has taken steps to resolve problems, which she classified as administrative, including replacing staff members the company says were responsible for problems raised by the state.

Blackwell also noted that the company has met standards set by the independent Council on Accreditation, "which speaks directly to the high quality and standard of services provided." The accreditation agency reviews public and private child and family social service and behavioral health care providers. Contemporary Family Services' accreditation is up for renewal.

This month, the Maryland Association of Resources for Family and Youth, a nonprofit membership organization for foster care providers, suspended Contemporary Family Services' membership while the company undergoes a peer review, according to a statement from the organization. Corey Pierce, a top-ranking official at Contemporary Family Services, resigned from the association's board in conjunction with the suspension.

John L. Monroe, executive director of Contemporary Family Services, and other company officials either declined to comment or didn't respond to emails seeking further comment.

Contemporary Family Services sent a letter in mid-January to foster parents in its network, warning that homes could be placed on suspension for failing to submit necessary paperwork to maintain certification. It gave foster parents 60 days to provide the necessary documentation.

Hines, the spokesman for the state Department of Human Resources, said if a foster care provider loses its license, the state would take steps to keep the children in their current homes and work with the foster parents to become licensed through another provider.

"Our primary focus is the physical safety of the foster children, and an equally as important consideration is their emotional well-being," he said. "We would not want to take them away from a household where they are comfortable and away from people they know and trust."

The decision in Maryland also would determine the fate of the company's contract with the District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, said Michael Umpierre, the agency's acting chief of staff.

The District of Columbia agency has contracted with Contemporary Family Services for about four months, Umpierre said. The payment agreement, under which the company has been paid $118,000, is contingent on the company meeting licensing requirements in Maryland, he said. Contemporary Family Services currently oversees placement of 11 foster care children there, Umpierre said.

Meanwhile, Contemporary Family Services' affiliates have been cited for contract violations in Louisiana, where it provides Medicaid services such as mental health and behavioral therapy for children, teens and adults.

Contemporary Family Services' Shreveport, La., affiliates Contemporary Quality Care and Quality Transportation are enrolled as Louisiana Medicaid providers, said Lisa R. Faust, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Contemporary Quality Care, which provides mental health rehabilitation, has violated its contract four times, Faust said. Quality Transportation, a nonemergency medical transportation provider, has had seven contract violations, she said. The cases involved violations of Medicaid rules, policies or procedures, and all 11 of the violations are considered minor, Faust said.

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