Leaders of a program in southwest Florida fear new foster care guidelines will hamstring their progress.
By Amy Welch
Carl Weinrich is frustrated. His non-profit organization, Sarasota YMCA Children, Youth and Family Services, is part of an effort called Community-Based Care, under which the state contracts with a group of non-profits to oversee all protective services of abused and neglected kids.
Weinrich says the YMCA has built an effective foster care program in Sarasota and Manatee counties that has reduced caseloads and increased adoptions. He's worried, however, that new rules the state has implemented in the wake of the Rilya Wilson case will increase bureaucracy at the expense of effectiveness.
"We'll do what we have to do, but geez," says Weinrich. One beef is that new requirements may result in caseworkers spending more time on paperwork and less with the children. Weinrich says the state wants to add restrictions in its contract with Sarasota's Community-Based Care to increase caseworker accountability. Caseworkers would have to enter data on each child into a computer themselves.
Previously, data entry workers entered the information, with caseworkers inputting confidential data only, allowing them more time to spend with kids and families. The software program is cumbersome, incomplete and difficult for the caseworkers, who Weinrich estimates could spend as much as four hours a day inputting data.
Weinrich and Community-Based Care workers in Sarasota point to the progress they have made in the past five years without such regulations. All of the non-profits under contract with the Department of Children and Families are housed under one roof, saving money and time in placement and assessment. Where there used to be an average of 36 children assigned to each caseworker, today the average is around 13 children in Sarasota and 20 in Manatee. According to DCF, the number of cases -- there can be up to five children per case statewide is 21 per caseworker.
From July 2000 to March 2002 the number of children in foster care has declined by 37% in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Shawnna Donovan, a DCF spokeswoman, says the new requirements are meant to increase accountability and protect the children -- and aren't all coming from the department. "I understand that Sarasota, Manatee and now De Soto have been very successful, but a lot of the (new) regulations are coming from the Legislature. Not all of them are coming from us," Donovan says.
Weinrich says he's taken his complaints to local legislative leaders and to Gov. Jeb Bush himself.
"What keeps driving us is that we're doing it better, and we know we can do it even better than we are if we can get the bureaucracy out of the way," says Weinrich.
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