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Grant will let DCF tout its success

The federal money will let the five-county district show how well privatization works.

By CHANDRA BROADWATER
Published January 26, 2007


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BROOKSVILLE - It's a half-million-dollar chance to show how a privatized child welfare system can work.

With a $466,000 three-year federal grant, the Department of Children and Families District 13 will be part of a national study on contracted foster care and other child welfare services.

Ocala-based Kids Central Inc., which has a contract with the state to administer child welfare services in the district's five-county region, will also be included in the study.

"When you've got so many other states that are undertaking the outsourcing (of) child welfare services, the fact that we would get chosen is a testament toward how well the system is working," said Tim Bottcher, DCF District 13 spokesman.

District 13 - which includes Hernando, Citrus, Lake, Marion, and Sumter counties - is one of three agencies in the country to receive the grants from the National Quality Improvement Center on the Privatization of Child Welfare Services.

The grant announcement comes two weeks after a Hernando County foster parent certified by DCF was arrested on charges of sexually abusing four teen boys in his care.

The boys, one 13-year-old and three 17-year-olds, told the Hernando County Sheriff's Office that foster parent Kejerald C. "K.J." Jackson inappropriately touched them and, in some cases, attempted to perform sexual acts on them.

Since 2003, 104 children - all teen boys - lived with Jackson for varying lengths of time. Some stayed for a few days. Others, a few months.

Bottcher said DCF applied for the grant last year. The center for child welfare services is based in Lexington, at the University of Kentucky.

The group is administering the funds through the Children's Bureau, another agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and Missouri's Children's Division also recently received grants, as well.

Bottcher explained that the study aims to use District 13 as an example for other states thinking about adopting a similar community-based contracting system.

In 2004, the state turned over foster care management to Kids Central. Currently, DCF pays the agency $43.7-million a year.

The nonprofit organization is composed of several social service providers spread throughout the five-county area. Specifically in Florida, the study will look at how the DCF incentive-based contract with Kids Central works. The group will also examine whether the system leads to improved outcomes for children in foster care.

"For example, let's say we have a performance measurement that all of our children removed from their homes must be placed back within 12 months," Bottcher said. "And we want (Kids Central) to apply this to 80 percent of children removed. If they go above that, they get more money. If they go below, they get less."

At the end of the three years, information will be compiled into a report and shared with other child welfare agencies, said Jennifer Hall, project manager with the National Quality Improvement Center.

"Hopefully, in the end we will be able to see improvements and how the system affects outcomes in children and families," Hall said.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.

[Last modified January 25, 2007, 23:03:08]


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