St. Petersburg Times Online: News of Florida
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather
  • GOP leaders doff gloves in debate of tax proposal
  • State criticizes private program for foster kids
  • Official: JQC work should be public
  • House passes school prayer bill
  • Lawmaker: Investigate agency
  • Legislature in brief

  • From the state wire

  • Hurricane Jeanne appears on track to hit Florida's east coast
  • Rumor mill working overtime after Florida hurricanes
  • Developments associated with Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne
  • Four killed in Panhandle plane crash were on Ivan charity mission
  • Hurricane Frances caused estimated $4.4 billion in insured damage
  • Disabled want more handicapped-accessible voting machines
  • USF forces administrators to resign over test score changes
  • Man's death at Universal Studios ruled accidental
  • State child welfare workers in Miami fail to do background checks
  • Hurricane Jeanne heads toward southeast U.S. coast
  • Hurricane Jeanne spurs more anxiety for storm-weary Floridians
  • Mistrial declared in case where teen was target of racial "joke"
  • Panhandle utility wants sewer plant moved to higher ground
  • State employee arrested on theft, bribery charges
  • Homestead house fire kills four children, one adult
  • Pierson leader tries to cut off relief to local fern cutters
  • Florida's high court rules Terri's law unconstitutional
  • Jacksonville students punished for putting stripper pole in dorm
  • FEMA handling nearly 600,000 applications for help
  • Man who killed wife, niece, self also killed mother in 1971
  • Producer sues city over lead ball fired by Miami police
  • Tourism suffers across Florida after pummeling by hurricanes
  • Key dates in the life of Terri Schiavo
  • An excerpt from the unanimous ruling in the Schiavo case
  • Four confirmed dead after small plane crash in Panhandle
  • Correction: Disney-Cruise Line story

    printer version

    State criticizes private program for foster kids

    The company that handles Pinellas and Pasco has poor case files because of overworked staffers, the DCF says.

    By CURTIS KRUEGER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 13, 2002

    Billed as a solution to the state's perpetually troubled social services agency, a private organization in Pinellas and Pasco counties is supposed to make life safer for foster children.

    But the workers are swamped.

    Staff at the Family Continuity Program, hired two years ago to work with foster children and abused kids, is "consistently working 50- to 60-hour weeks" without overtime, according to a state Department of Children and Families report.

    One manager was working with 70 families, when the optimum is 20, and supervising employees at the same time. The effect has been a lack of documentation in client files, the report said, something that could result in serious consequences.

    But Jeff Richard, executive director of Family Continuity, said the problem should be solved soon. He said new employees are gaining the experience needed to ease the load on more experienced employees.

    "Every day that goes by it gets better and soon, over the next couple of months, we'll really be ahead of the curve," he said.

    The troubles cited in the report have a familiar ring for the Department of Children and Families, formerly called HRS. When children have died under the department's supervision, later investigations often have turned up a troubling pattern of overworked staff, poorly maintained case files, and crucial information that leaked through holes in the system.

    But this time, the DCF is making the criticism instead of taking it.

    "Definitely, they need to remedy some of their issues," said DCF spokeswoman Shawnna Lee.

    Fed up with the controversies surrounding the department, the Florida Legislature in 1998 voted to require the state to privatize divisions that work with foster children, children who go up for adoption, and the counselors of parents who have abused or neglected their children. Gov. Jeb Bush and DCF Secretary Kathleen Kearney have enthusiastically embraced the concept.

    Pinellas and Pasco counties were among the first to privatize, hiring Family Continuity to begin work in July 2000.

    But the transition grew rocky because Family Continuity needed to hire many new employees. Once hired, the workers could not take on large caseloads because state rules require that new caseworkers begin gradually, handling as few as two families at a time. More experienced staffers had to take on extra cases.

    Richard said workers now are averaging roughly 30 cases per person.

    When his agency first took over, he said, "we worried about making sure when we did such a massive system change that no child fell through the cracks." Now, he said, he considers the transition behind him. "We feel increasingly better."

    Sixteen Family Continuity workers were interviewed for the DCF report. Workers gave the agency high marks for encouraging creativity and teamwork and making them feel valued.

    But they also said the long hours "are still not sufficient for them to complete all necessary administrative duties," the report said.

    Noting a lack of documentation in some files, the report concluded: "It was not apparent that staff understand the serious consequences that could result when administrative processes are not followed."

    The report also questioned Family Continuity's decision not to pay its workers overtime. Richard said he had received legal opinions assuring him it was proper.

    - Times Staff Writer Ryan Davis contributed to this report.

    Back to State news
    Back to Top

    © 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
    490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111
    Special Links
    Lucy Morgan

    From the Times state desk