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State foster care gets a fix-it list
A state task force offers recommendations.
By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer
Published October 10, 2007
The state's Task Force on Child Protection, created to examine the Florida's foster care system and recommend improvements in the wake of a high-profile blunder involving a missing toddler, issued its preliminary report this week.
The 11-page report says more urgency and coordination between agencies is needed in all levels of foster care and specifically calls for a quicker review when foster children are not visited by caseworkers.
Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Bob Butterworth created the 13-member task force in July to make sure a case like 2-year-old Courtney Clark's would not happen again. The Pinellas girl disappeared for nine months with her birth mother. Subsequent reviews revealed numerous errors by DCF, its private contractors and law enforcement.
"One of the things our committee did not want was to come up with just another report to sit on the shelf," said task force chairman Barry Krischer, West Palm Beach state attorney. "We wanted to come up with recommendations that could be implemented, assuming the Legislature was committed to protecting children."
Caseworkers: Reduce the review period for children not seen by a caseworker to 31 days.In Courtney's case, a caseworker did not visit her once she was placed with her mother's friend in Lake County. It took the worker four months to report her missing to law enforcement.
Background checks: Improve the screening of potential caregivers, including foster parents, relatives and strangers through changed legislation. In Courtney's case, a home study of the foster family did not fully disclose a history of abuse there.
Missing child reports: Support legislation to require law enforcement to accept a missing child report when a foster child is taken by a fleeing birth parent. In Courtney's case, there was a delay in entering her information into the Florida Crime Information Center and the National Crime Information Center because she was taken by her birth mother, who was not charged with a crime.
A final report will be released Nov. 2, though the group's work is far from over. It plans to continue to meet bimonthly through September 2008 to tackle other issues, including:
Creating a uniform payment method for foster care: There is a large range in per child funding among nonprofit, community-based agencies that oversee foster care across the state. Some agencies receive $11,000 per child while others receive $18,000.
Clarifying the roles of DCF and its private contractors: In Courtney's case, DCF partly blamed its contractor, which partly blamed its subcontractor, which supervised the girl's caseworker.
Reducing caseworker turnover: In some areas, turnover has been more than 90 percent.
Establishing standards for addressing child against child sexual abuse: Confusion has arisen among foster families about where to place children who abuse other children.