- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Some of the neediest children in the U.S. Virgin Islands are not being put at the top of the list to qualify for the territory’s Head Start program, a new report said.

The Department of the Interior’s internal watchdog audited the Department of Health and Human Services and conducted a random sample of 100 children on the island. The audit found that approximately 1 out of every 10 children received more priority selection points than they should have, “potentially placing them in the Head Start program ahead of needier children on the program’s waiting list because DHS retains waiting list priority rankings only for the current enrollment.”

In total, investigators estimate that 84 of the 726 children enrolled in the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Human Services (DHS) Head Start program as of Aug. 31, 2010, received more priority selection points than they should have, but could not determine if needier children were being snubbed.

The Inspector General’s report said DHS employees did not accurately record family income for some of the children, which led to incorrect eligibility calculations for the Head Start program.

Investigators also found that DHS did not verify some of the children’s living situations to determine if they were indeed homeless, or living on public assistance.

Additionally, the watchdog’s report said the island’s Head Start program did not meet the minimum requirement that 10 percent of the program’s funding be granted to children with special needs or disabilities. However, DHS did state that some of the children in the program may have been disabled but had not been formally determined as such.

The Inspector General recommended that DHS officials ensure that record-keeping and data-recording standards be improved to ensure that the children with the most need are receiving the highest prioritization for Head Start qualification.

In responding comments, DHS officials agreed with the recommendations and detailed corrective actions that were already being put in place to eradicate the problems.

DHS‘ response said a manager is now responsible for verifying a child’s information entered into the Child Output Planning Assessment, against the information recorded in the child’s file prior to their formal eligibility determination.

DHS officials did argue that some of the cases were special circumstances and are not indicative of the program as a whole. Two of the homeless families that were sampled by the watchdog were not documented because no formal documentation could be obtained.

“In those cases the places where the persons were staying could not provide documentation without jeopardizing themselves and the families they were receiving shelter from. Local homeless shelters tend to allow short term stays only,” DHS explained in its response. “Thus it is not uncommon in the Virgin Islands for homeless mothers and children to move from house to house staying with friends or relatives.”

DHS also argued that during the school years sampled by the watchdog’s investigators, they provided services to 105 children with disabilities, including suspected diabetes, totaling 18 percent of the head start program, instead of the 9 percent that the investigators had estimated.