The Child Who Was Left Behind

Local Head Start agency slammed in federal report...

Let us begin this series on Cape Cod Child Development with a child who was literally left behind. 

The following is a verbatim excerpt from a scathing report on the Head Start program operated by Cape Cod Child Development, issued by the US Health and Human Services department's Administration for Children and Families, Office of Head Start, in Washington DC.

The Director of Early Education and Child Development reported to the Region J Program Specialist on July 11, 2018 an incident that occurred on July 10,2018, in which a Head Start child was left alone and unattended on the Hyannis Preschool playground for 30 minutes. In interviews on July 11, 2018 with the Director of Early Education and Child Development and during the Office of Head Stan (OHS) July 25-27, 2018 on-site monitoring review.the following information was provided, as detailed below: according to witness statements. The teacher took the class to the playground in the afternoon. At approximately 4:50 p.m. the teacher transitioned the class from the playground to the Hyannis 4 Classroom but did not take attendance to ensure she had all children. This action conflicted with program policy.

The child's mother arrived at the classroom at approximately 5:00 p.m. to pick up the child and the teacher told the mother the child was picked up earlier by the child's father even though she noted that the child was not signed out by the parent. The teacher signed out the child to indicate the child had left even though she had not observed the child depart. This action conflicted with the Child Supervision Procedure that "Head Counts are to be done on a frequent basis/and as often as necessary throughout the day including but not limited to before and after a transition of a group of children from one activity area to another. such as transitioning from circle time to outdoor play, coming in from outdoor play. and field trips. verifying children present and counted for (name to face count) and verify on the attendance sheet" and "All children upon departure must be signed out from the daily attendance sheet by a parent indicating if not the parent or caregiver, the person(s) approved to take the child. Teachers are responsible to check attendance and mark child name with an X. recounting
the number of children that remain under their care." The teacher's written statement reflected she assumed she missed seeing the child depart with the father because of the "chaos.''

According to the Director of Early Education and Child Development. the child's mother returned home and called the child's father and learned that he had not picked up the child. At approximately 5:20 p.m. the teacher heard crying from the playground--which was fenced in--and went outside to find the child. crying and frightened in the playground tunnel. The mother drove back to the center and arrived at approximately 5:35 p.m. and was immediately reunited with her child. 

The teacher involved did not report the incident to any of the program managers until the next day, July 11. 2018. At that time. the Director of Early Education and Child Development informed the Region I Program Specialist of the incident. Additionally. a report of abuse and neglect was filed with the Massachusetts (MA) Department of Children and Families (DCF) and neglect was substantiated. A report was also filed with MA Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) on July 11. 2018 and the grantee was found out of compliance with EEC regulations. The teacher involved in the incident was placed on paid administrative leave.
 

This excerpt is from one of seventeen findings made during an unannounced monitoring review of the Cape Cod Child Development (CCCD) Head Start Program in July 2018.  The findings included four "deficiencies" and thirteen "noncompliance" items.  Deficient items must be resolved in 60 day and noncompliance items in 120 days.

The findings in the federal report cover everything from program operation and safety issues such as the incident above, improper screening of applicants for income eligibility to enroll in Head Start, human resources issues, teacher credentialing, board oversight, mounting debt, healthy practices, teaching/learning and more.

In this series we shall detail some of the findings cited by federal investigators and perhaps learn what the future might hold for Cape Cod Child Development.

How Did We Get Here?

On November 21st, Cape Cod Today published a story about Hyannis lawyer Matthew Bresette, former chairman of CCCD's board of directors, having his law license suspended indefinitely after he admitted to misappropriating money from his law firm's client trust accounts and from the law firm itself.  

In that story we stated that there were no indications of wrongdoing at any of the non-profits where Bresette served as an officer or director.

Immediately after that story published, we received messages from readers who made several unsubstantiated allegations about the financial situation at Cape Cod Child Development.  All of those messages alleged some kind of mismanagement of funds from the Head Start grant.  The allegations were similar enough that we felt obligated to follow up with the agencies overseeing CCCD's Head Start grant.

On November 26th we reached out to local elected officials to ascertain where we might go with to with our questions.  Congressman Bill Keating's office was able to provide the correct state official and we sent a list of questions via email.  The state office that oversees Head Start escalated the matter to Washington, DC, where we were in contact with the Head Start office at the Department of Health and Human Services.  

Late Monday afternoon, a HHS Public Affairs Specialist with the Administration of Children and Families (ACF) responded with answers to all of our questions as well as a copy of the October 26th report concerning the Head Start program at Cape Cod Child Development.

In this series of articles we will explore the findings of the Head Start investigators as well as the situation they found in the classrooms at the various Head Start facilities operated by Cape Cod Child Development.

Lack of Fiscal Oversight

One of the more damning aspects of the federal report is rampant lack of oversight for the agency's spending.  According to investigators, "The Cape Cod Child Development Board of Directors (Board) did not take steps to ensure proper oversight of the Head Start program including the safeguarding of Federal funds. The grantee's debt threatens the continued provision of program services."

The investigators continue, "a review of Board minutes from June 28, 2017 through March 28, 2018 showed no evidence there was a review of agency financial statement reports or evidence the Board was aware of the growing agency debt."

"In interviews, the Comptroller and the part-time interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) stated the agency's debt included:

  • A fully utilized unsecured line of credit of $650,000;
  • A Chase Bank credit card with a balance of $57,047 [Editor's Note: Carried a 24% interest rate as of 6/30/18];
  • Accounts payable of $111,320--31-60 days past due; 
  • $83,901--61-90 days past due.
  • and $94,342--90+ days past due.

Additionally, the agency was spending its Head Start Grant at a burn rate that would consume the funds before the year was up.

Actual Head Start expenses as documented in a report of actual expenses to date showed that from January 1 through June 30, 2018 expenses were $1,968,482, or 64 percent of the total Head Start grant of $3,051.852. Estimated expenses for July and August 2018 were $220,000 and for September-December 2018 were $1.520,000, for a projected excess of expenses over Head Start grant revenues of $656,630 by program year end if the grantee continued to spend Head Start funds at its current rate. Prior to this, the grantee had prematurely spent Head Start funds in 2017, with all grants funds expended by November 30, 2017 ahead of the grant's budget period end date of December 31, 2017.  There was no evidence the Board discussed this continued pattern of overspending the Head Start grant in Board meeting minutes through March 28. 2018.

A summary of grantee drawdowns for grant years 2017 and 2018 reconciled to actual costs was requested, but the Comptroller could only provide data from March-July 2017, as well as 2018 to date. The Comptroller stated due to a change in finance staff and the implementation of a new accounting system, she could not produce the remainder of the data without resorting to a manual search of records.

The investigators conclude:  

The Cape Cod Child Development Board of Directors did not take steps to ensure proper oversight of the program including the safeguarding of Federal funds; therefore, it was not in compliance with the
regulation.

Additional fieldwork may be required in order to determine the total amount of potentially unallowable costs that may have been charged to Head Start. The Office of Head Start will notify you in advance of a special review, if one is required. This matter may also be referred to the Office of Administration. Administration for Children and Families to determine whether a disallowance is appropriate.

When we asked Head Start officials in Washington what "disallowance" implies, they responded, "ACF onsite monitoring reviews identify expenses of questionable allowability in relation to the Uniform Guidance requirements.  Further field work is required to establish a final amount of costs, if any, to be disallowed.  Once a disallowance is monetized it must be repaid to the Federal government. If costs are determined by ACF to be unallowable as noted above, the grantee agency will be required to repay those amounts to the Federal government."

More to Come

There's plenty more to come as future articles in this series examine some of the other findings in the ACF report.

Head Start is an absolutely essential service for many Cape Cod families.  Some 377 local children attend Head Start programs provided by Cape Cod Child Development.

While many of the items cited in the federal Head Start report appear as intricate finance or policy items, they are moving parts in a machine to deliver services to the agency's Head Start clients.  When the machine malfunctions, we end up with cases like "the child left behind" at the top of this story.

If you'd like to jump ahead, you can download the entire federal report here.

 


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