by Max Brantley
Watch this story. Stephens Media continues to report on the financial disaster at a Russellville-based agency, Child Development Inc., that received millions over the years to provide Head Start to 2,300 kids. It has imploded financially and has been taken over by the federal government. Today's installment: bounced checks for workers.
Both the feds and state had supervisory obligations for this operation. The feds moved first. You may recall that, when the disaster began surfacing, the state Human Services Department defended this outfit as a quality provider of long standing and even for a time talked of allowing it continue to provide Head Start services to some of its existing clientele. DHS said the agency had always been in compliance with regulations.
Perhaps the audit will demonstrate this to be true — that an exceptional public agency, suddenly, in a couple of months, went from being a law-compliant paragon of a provider to a bankrupt, paycheck-bouncing disaster that needed to be summarily put out of business. Maybe. Or maybe DHS missed the regulatory boat, just as it did for years in failing to enforce a law against religion instruction in publicly financed daycare programs — at least when it came to programs run by two state legislators, Republican Rep. Justin Harris and Republican Sen. Johnny Key.
DHS is the biggest, toughest, costliest portion of state government. To a degree, periodic missteps are almost unavoidable when you talk about the difficulty of serving needy people with huge problems, physical and mental. But these failures and also in larger areas — State Hospital, Human Development Centers and Youth Services, to name three, not to mention some abject failures early on in child protective services that I've railed about before — are not a testament to the Beebe administration.