TALLAHASSEE - In a report to be released today, Florida's Department of Children and Families touts a dramatic drop in the backlog of child abuse and neglect investigations, a higher adoption rate and more employee stability since Secretary Jerry Regier took over 18 months ago.
Regier said the cornerstones of his approach to improving the embattled agency were increasing adoptions and decreasing children needing out-of-home care. DCF says adoptions rose by 21 percent last fiscal year and are on pace to rise again this year, and 6 percent fewer children needed out-of-home care.
"All along I have said that if we could reduce the number of children coming into the system, and increase and improve the number of children getting into permanent homes, that would be success," Regier told the Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the report Thursday.
A child abuse expert questioned some of DCF's claims, including a 118 percent increase in the number of neglect and abuse investigations completed within 60 days.
"There's a major difference between investigating a case and just closing the file on the computer," said Karen Gievers, president of the Children's Advocacy Foundation.
But child welfare advocates outside the state have noticed some progress in DCF.
"Things really have been pretty tumultuous in Florida for several years, and in the past year or so, we've seen much greater focus and consistency," said Robert McKeagney, vice president of the Child Welfare League of America.
DCF is overhauling the way it does business, privatizing many of its services for the poor and streamlining its operations from 14 districts to six zones. Since Regier took office he has also shaken up the agency by replacing many top supervisors and cutting many administrative jobs.
Other improvements cited by DCF in the 22-page report:
Fingerprinting of 88 percent of children in DCF care, up from 6.6 percent in September 2002 when Regier was hired.
Reducing its backlog of open child protective cases from 35,017 in September 2002 to 2,804 in December 2003.
Increasing the percentage of child protective investigations completed within 60 days from 39 percent in 2002 to 86 percent by the end of 2003.
Reducing the employee turnover rate from 52 percent in September 2002 to 25 percent at the end of last year, crediting an increase in pay for 3,000 front-line workers for some of the increased stability.