ANCHORAGE (AP) A new state audit has found hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel costs are wasted each year by the Division of Family and Youth Services.
The agency often pays full fare for plane tickets for children under state protection who need to travel. In many cases, top-dollar tickets are the only ones available by the time all the required DFYS approvals are met, according to the legislative audit, which was dated March 21 and released last week.
With a little advance planning, you can make it so much cheaper,'' said Pat Davidson, legislative auditor.
The state covers travel costs for children in DFYS custody. That includes trips to move to a new foster or adoptive home, to reunite with their parents, to visit relatives, and to get to treatment centers and sometimes to go on vacation.
During the fiscal year that ended June 30, DFYS spent $1.9 million on travel for the children and adults, most of it on airfare, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Of that, DFYS spent about $1.3 million on full-fare tickets in situations that weren't an emergency, according to auditors. Buying tickets in advance could cut that in half, auditors estimated.
In one case cited, the state paid for eight foster children to travel to Disneyland on vacation.
State policy allows DFYS to pay transportation costs for foster children to go on a vacation with their foster families once a year. In this case, the plane tickets were full fare, $811 each instead of $475, because of last-minute approvals.
Beyond that, auditors contend that the Disney trip wasn't within the spirit of the policy, which they said is intended to encourage bonding with a family who may end up adopting them. This trip was planned around the foster children, six of whom lived in a foster group home and two who lived in a foster home next door, auditors said.
Even if the trip was justified, paying almost $6,500 (of which $5,275 was state general funds) instead of $3,800 was not,'' the audit said.
But the acting DFYS director, Tom Cherian, said the foster parents had already planned the trip and it was perfectly appropriate.
Trips like this ensure the children aren't left out and moved yet again to a temporary home when the foster family goes on vacation, he said.
The foster parents paid their own way to Disneyland and covered all of the other expenses, including the foster children's theme park tickets and meals.
DFYS is supposed to bring healing and help these kids get back to a normal life,'' Cherian said.
Under DFYS policy, a caseworker must estimate a trip's cost and complete one form requesting travel funds for the child and another for the escort, who may be a state employee, a relative of the child, a foster parent or a volunteer advocate. For all but the cheapest trips, the forms then must be approved by the worker's supervisor and two higher-level managers.
For trips out of state or costing more than $1,500 per child, Juneau central office staff members must review the request, and ultimately the DFYS director must approve.
It would be far simpler, and faster, to develop clear written guidelines for travel procurement, to make workers accountable for their decisions, and to give them the ability, within specified dollar parameters, to make their own travel decisions,'' the audit said.
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