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Hillsborough Kids' efforts miss 1 goal

The local group that cares for foster kids ranks 10th of 22 agencies in the state's view.

By JOSE CARDENAS
Published March 15, 2007


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TAMPA - By some measures, a community-based coalition that cares for 5,000 foster children in Hillsborough County is not living up to performance goals set by its contracts with the state.

After reviewing the work of Hillsborough Kids Inc., the Florida Department of Children and Families found that too many children in its care were not reunited with their families within a year.

Hillsborough Kids administrators said their agency is improving its performance.

"I don't think anybody should be alarmed," said Jeff Rainey, chief executive officer of Hillsborough Kids. "To me, there's an area that has been identified that we need to work on."

In response to the state's action, Hillsborough Kids has created "resource specialists" who work to keep families together.

Hillsborough Kids is not alone. The Safe Children Coalition, which cares for 3,500 foster children in Pinellas and Pasco counties, was found to fall short in three areas:

- Too many children were moved twice or more within a year.

- Not enough children were reunited with their families within a year of their latest removal.

- Not enough adoptions became final within two years.

Each coalition consists of a lead agency and a group of sub-contracted providers that manage cases, facilitate adoptions and provide other services.

The department placed the two lead agencies in the coalitions on "corrective action plans" at the end of the first quarter in September. It's a step that could lead to the loss of contracts if problems are not addressed.

The 22 community-based care agencies that manage child-welfare services for the state have yearly contracts that require them to meet targets in eight performance measures.

Hillsborough Kids was deficient in one measure and ranked 10th in overall performance.

It's not unusual for a private agency to lag in one or more performance areas. State records show that in October all but one of the 22 agencies in the state were in the red zone in at least one performance measure.

Fourteen have been asked to submit corrective action plans in the past six months, said Erin Geraghty, a DCF spokeswoman.

The state sees corrective action plans as a way to make sure agencies hired as part of the privatization of child-welfare services meet performance targets.

"We view corrective action plans as an important tool for improvement," said Andy Ritter, a DCF spokesman. "... There can be need for concern, depending on the nature of any deficiencies."

Not just money woes

In Pinellas, administrators at the Safe Children Coalition say their agency is underfunded, but budget woes don't appear to explain it all.

The Sarasota YMCA is the lead agency in a contract to take care of 1,100 children in Sarasota, Manatee and De Soto counties.

That contract averages out to just under $18,000 per child - the most in the state. Yet that contract is also on a corrective action plan. The agency ranks second to last in performance in the state.

By contrast, the best-performing agency is the Nassau County Board of Commissioners, whose budget averages out to $10,250 per child - the least in the state.

New formula offered

In recent years, legislators have tried to close the amount-per-child gap by allocating any new money to agencies whose allocations per child are under the state average.

Some child welfare advocates say a possible solution for better funding in Pinellas may be a new proposed allocation formula being promoted by the 22 agencies.

The formula would be a way to dish out only any new money above the $606.5-million disbursed to the agencies last year. The proposed formula weighs prevalence of abuse in an agency's region, its workload, efficiency and the cost of hiring people.

But the proposed new formula would not give the most weight to who is getting the least per child.

If approved, two agencies that are still below the state-average - including Hillsborough Kids, whose amount per child is $10,300 - are not considered underfunded and would be last in line to get any of the new money. Five that are above the average would have priority.

Not everyone has bought into the proposed formula.

"A lot of folks feel there is a great deal of inequity," said Rep. Aaron P. Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, who chairs the Health Care Council. "This (formula) does not address the inequity situation."

Jose Cardenas can be reached at jcardenas@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4224.

Area of concern

Hillsborough Kids Inc. was placed on corrective action based on not meeting one of eight performance standards:

Family reunification

State standard: 76 percent of children shall be reunited with their families within 12 months of their last removal.

Hillsborough Kids' performance: 46 percent.

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 06:24:49]


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