- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri paid $1.5 million for services for young children that were never provided and has insufficient oversight of several early childhood programs, according to an audit released Tuesday.

A state fund designated to support services for young children is used for programs that are not properly monitored, are inefficient and waste taxpayers’ money, Auditor Tom Schweich said. The Early Childhood Development, Education and Care Fund received the lowest possible rating the auditor can give.

“It’s not just taxpayers. It’s also costing children millions of dollars,” Schweich said.

The Department of Social Services gave additional funding to non-profit organizations that administer Early Head Start programs but did not require them to increase the number of children served for seven months, according to the audit. That resulted in $1.5 million in overpayments because fewer families were served than the contracts stated and there was no enforcement of the minimum number of children the groups were supposed to serve under the terms of the contract.

The department has since updated the contracts to provide funding based on expenditures by the Early Head Start programs, according to the department’s written response in the audit.

Money from the fund is also used for home visit programs for families of young children, child care assistance for working families, a grant program known as the Missouri Preschool Project to start or expand preschools and early childhood special education programs.

The audit also found fault with oversight for several programs administered by the social services department and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Schweich said there continue to be problems with monitoring eligibility of participants and verifying that providers are actually serving the children they say they are. He said there seems to be some institutional resistance to making necessary changes.

A new system is being put in place to monitor early childhood special education funding, according to a statement from DESE. The department also said while more on-site monitoring of programs would help, there were only two employees with a caseload of 360 recipients for the Missouri Preschool Program and Parents as Teachers.

Having home visit programs run through multiple agencies creates inefficiencies and has also resulted in the state being billed twice for some services in the past, according to the report. The social services department runs a home visit program and education department funds one known as Parents as Teachers. The Department of Social Services is modifying contracts to add wording prohibiting double-billing by a provider, according to a written response in the audit.

Since Parents as Teachers is the main program and other agencies provide additional services, DESE will give a list of programs getting funding to the social services department, according to a statement from the education department.

Schweich said he was also struck by the wide variation in cost for the social service department’s home visit program, ranging from $1,400 to $5,200 per child or family. He recommends the department put in place some price controls for both competitive and non-competitive contracts.

The department stated in its written response that the variation was to be expected due to geographic differences and variation in the type of services provided.

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Follow Marie French on Twitter at https://twitter.com/m_jfrench

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