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L.A. County keeps troubled foster care contractor

By Garrett Therolf

9:24 PM EDT, May 21, 2013

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Los Angeles County Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Gloria Molina were unable to win majority support for their push to sever all ties to a foster care contractor with a history of substantiated child abuse and financial malfeasance.

Under the supervisors' proposal, the county board had been scheduled to take a public vote Tuesday on the county's relationship with Teens Happy Homes, a contractor that has received up to $3.6 million per year and cared for more than 1,100 foster children in recent years.

But Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas moved the item to a closed-door session where the proposal died, at least temporarily. A spokeswoman for Ridley-Thomas declined to say why he removed the item from the public schedule.

In closed session, the item was referred back to the offices of its sponsors who are free to bring back the proposal at a subsequent meeting.

Molina was on vacation Tuesday and not due to return until May 30. Antonovich's spokesman said his office will be discussing the matter with Molina's aides to decide how to proceed.

Michael Nash, the presiding judge of L.A. County's Juvenile Court, and Leslie Starr Heimov, who leads the court-appointed law firm representing foster children, have called on the supervisors to sever the contract.

The calls were issued after an examination of Teens Happy Homes, published in The Times, revealed questionable spending, including tens of thousands of dollars that went to personal expenses of the chief executive, Beautina Robinson.

The newspaper also reported that Maurice Mitchell, then president of the Teens Happy Homes board, retained his position while in jail before being convicted in a real estate scheme that involved identity theft, forged documents and more than $260,000 in stolen money.

Over a three-year period, 240 allegations of abuse or neglect were filed on behalf of youths at Teens' homes, a Times analysis of child abuse hot line data found. Teens' rate of nearly two allegations for each home was more than two times the average for the state and two-thirds higher than that of the rest of Los Angeles County.

About half of Teens' 131 facilities had no complaints during the period covered by the data, from October 2008 through September 2011. But four of them had 10 or more complaints, landing them among the top 40 in the county.

Investigators substantiated about 17% of all complaints from the Teens homes, about the same as the state average.

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Twitter: @gtherolf |Google+

garrett.therolf@latimes.com