ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Los Angeles County Examines Troubled Group Home’s Finances

As a group home for some of the state’s most troubled children prepares to close, county auditors are poring over its finances.

The group home run by Bayfront Youth & Family Services in Long Beach, California. (Kendrick Brinson for ProPublica)

For months, state and county regulators examined allegations of abuse and neglect at the Bayfront group home for troubled youngsters in Long Beach, California. They found that the home’s staff had aggressively restrained children on the street; that management failed to adequately train staff and that workers may have underreported incidents of suspected child abuse. The home is slated to close at the end of this month.

But the government’s examination of Bayfront’s operations is not over. Los Angeles County auditors are now reviewing the facility’s revenue and expenditures.

Don Chadwick, an official with the Los Angeles County Auditor-Controller’s office, told ProPublica that investigators took up their examination after a recent “risk assessment” performed annually on each of the 100 or so group homes in the county. Chadwick did not say what was in the assessment of Bayfront that drew the attention of auditors, but investigators have now been tasked with a more thorough review of the home’s finances.

Federal tax forms and state budget records show that Bayfront operates on a $6.7 million dollar annual budget drawn primarily from county contracts and state grants. Roughly two-thirds of the money is used to pay the home’s more than 100 staff members; the rest, the records say, is spent mostly on repairs, maintenance, and food and clothing for the children.

Evan Lamont, a spokesman for Bayfront Youth & Family Services, defended the home’s financial operations.

“Regarding any ongoing audits, I recommend you contact the appointed representative at the County of Los Angeles for comment relating to that matter,” Lamont said in an email. “As far as the organization’s financials and the individuals that comprise its board of directors, that is public record.”

Bayfront belongs to a class of group homes known as Level 14s, acute-care homes designated for the state’s most emotionally troubled youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. Counties that contract with a Level 14 home pay the facility roughly $10,000 dollars per child per month. The homes are supposed to provide intensive psychiatric care for children, but several, including Bayfront, have come under fire in recent years for a variety of failings.

Bayfront Chief Executive Officer Maryam Ribadu earned roughly $192,000 in 2014, more than twice the next highest paid employee. Tax forms show that Ribadu’s salary had more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, rising from $89,382 to its current level.

A number of audits have unearthed trouble at Los Angeles group homes and foster care centers in recent years. The Los Angeles Times has reported that Los Angeles County group home and foster care administrators have been caught spending taxpayer dollars on cigarettes, beer, perfume, fine china and other personal expenses. Between 2000 and 2010, auditors found that foster care operators had misspent more than $11 million dollars.

In the last year, the directors of two separate group homes have been charged with embezzlement by the Los Angeles County District Attorney. In September, a couple who ran a home called Little People’s World, pleaded guilty to embezzling or misappropriating thousands of dollars. The former chief executive is set to spend six months in jail.

In April, the financial director and executive director of a group home called Moore’s Cottage were charged with embezzling more than $100,000 from their nonprofit organization and filing false tax returns. The pair pled not guilty and they are set to begin pre-trial hearings in November.

In both cases, the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services had been alerted to evidence of misspending years before it took enforcement action and referred the cases to the district attorney’s office for prosecution.

The last time Bayfront was audited, in 2011, the county found that Bayfront had failed to return $36,700 in county money that had been granted for services the organization didn’t actually provide. Lamont, the Bayfront spokesman, said the money had been properly refunded to the county and there was no issue of wrongdoing.

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