Guyana Tragedy Points to a Need for Better Care and Protection of Guardianship Children

HRD-81-7: Published: Dec 30, 1980. Publicly Released: Dec 30, 1980.

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GAO was requested to review the placement of foster children with members of the Peoples Temple. After finding that some of the children had guardians, GAO examined guardianship children in California.

GAO found that no children in foster care died in Guyana. A few of the victims of the tragedy were wards of Peoples Temple members and were taken to Guyana without court approval. California guardianship children frequently did not receive of all the protection intended for them by State law. California received Federal foster care maintenance payments for guardianship children who did not meet Federal eligibility criteria. Federal overpayments occurred in three California counties, because the counties obtained Federal reimbursement for guardianship children whose care and placement were not the responsibility of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The health and safety of some children may have been jeopardized by placing them in small foster family homes which housed children in excess of capacity.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of HHS should direct the Office of Human Development Services to follow up on Federal overpayments for ineligible guardianship children and work with California to identify and make retroactive adjustments for the overpayments in the three counties reviewed and the counties not reviewed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of HHS should direct the Office of Human Development Services to encourage California to help the county social services agencies expand criteria on suitability reports to cover more fully the physical well-being of children, such as criminal checks and health certificates for petitioners and fire clearances for petitioners' homes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of HHS should direct the Office of Human Development Services to encourage California to reiterate to the probate court judges the importance of county social workers' preparing suitability reports on petitioners for nonrelative guardianship children.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should require the U.S. Passport Office to adopt policies and procedures to verify, before issuance of passports, that where required by State law, guardians have obtained court approval to take their wards outside the country for travel and/or residence abroad.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of HHS should direct the Office of Human Development Services to work with California to see that Federal funding is provided only for children placed in licensed facilities that fully meet State health and welfare licensing requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of HHS should direct the Office of Human Development Services to determine whether other States are erroneously including guardianship children as federally eligible for foster care. If so, it should act to identify and recover the overpayments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of HHS should direct the Office of Human Development Services to encourage California to reissue regulations governing guardianship situations and require compliance by county social services agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  8. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Recent legislation has satisfied GAO concern over this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of HHS should direct the Office of Human Development Services to issue instructions to all of the States notifying them that guardianship children are not eligible for Federal reimbursement for foster care maintenance payments when responsibility for such children is removed from the State title IV-A agency.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

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