Camelot takes over foster care

Published May 19, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - Foster care services in Hernando County will now be supervised by a new agency that will have many of the same workers as its predecessor but will operate with less money.

Child welfare officials say, though, that the changes won't impact services or allow children and families in Hernando to fall through the cracks.

Beginning today, Camelot Community Care of Clearwater will supervise foster care and protective supervision of 327 cases of 696 children in Hernando. Friday was the deadline for the 60-day transition to Camelot from the Harbor Behavioral Healthcare Institute in Brooksville.

In March, Kids Central Inc., the community-based provider hired by the state to oversee foster care and adoption in this area, canceled its $6.6-million contract with the Harbor.

As a result, the Harbor, part of the BayCare Health System, laid off 96 people. Forty-one of the combination of caseworkers and administrative support staff have been rehired by Camelot to continue providing the same services in Hernando, according to the Harbor.

The changes leave 34 caseworkers administering the nearly 700 children in Hernando County, according to Camelot. The Harbor could not say Friday how many caseworkers were working here before the contract was canceled.

In 2004, the state Department of Children and Families privatized foster care and established Kids Central Inc. as the lead agency in District 13, which includes Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties.

The DCF paid Ocala-based Kids Central $43.8-million this year to oversee the 2, 946 children in state care in District 13. Kids Central then subcontracts to local providers, such as the Harbor, which handled cases in Hernando and Citrus counties.

Under the changeover, the Centers will take over the cases of 513 children in Citrus County.

Until a new contract is negotiated for the upcoming fiscal year beginning in July, both Camelot and the Centers will be paid the remaining two months of the former $6.6-million contract with the Harbor, according to Lynn Routh, spokeswoman for Kids Central.

Camelot CEO Mike DiBrizzi said that the amount of the last two months of the original contract had been reduced. Neither he nor Routh could say Friday how much less Kids Central will pay those two agencies than it did their predecessor.

It is also unclear why Kids Central reduced the contract amount.

When its contract was canceled in March, officials at the Harbor maintained that strained finances were at the root of Kids Central's actions.

According to John Sheehan, vice president of behavioral health services for BayCare, in mid February Kids Central asked the Harbor to lay off 55 staffers to avert a "financial crisis."

If the Harbor said no, Kids Central threatened to cancel the contract, Sheehan said.

At the time, cutting two-thirds of the staff would have left caseworkers handling 35 to 40 cases each, nearly double the standard of 18 to 20 cases, Sheehan said. The Harbor countered with 19 layoffs, which Kids Central initially agreed to, but then rejected.

Routh said that concerns with case management performance at the Harbor forced the cancellation.

But Doug Leonardo, executive director for the Harbor, rejected that assertion.

"We are not aware of any concerns regarding our performance, " Leonardo said. "We never received any corrective action from them."

Regardless of why the contract was terminated, both Leonardo and DiBrizzi said that their agencies have been committed to providing a safe transition for those children and families involved.

They said most families will continue to have the same caseworkers as they did before.

In preparation for the transition, the agencies have been busy reviewing cases and interviewing and hiring caseworkers. Camelot is leasing the same Brooksville building on Ponce de Leon Boulevard that the Harbor used.

"We try not to change the caseworkers who deal with the children and families if at all possible to ensure consistency for children, " Routh said. "Changing the management should not adversely affect our clients. The stability and permanency of the children we serve is always our first concern."

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