Foster care case files incomplete


Published: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Abysmal record-keeping threatens the health and safety of children in foster care, the Statewide Advocacy Council has concluded after reviewing more than a thousand files.
Virtually all the Department of Children & Families case files reviewed during a yearlong investigation were disorganized and incomplete.
Some children's records were improperly filed with those of other children. Most files did not identify where the foster care child was, The Miami Herald reported Sunday.
"The (poor) conditions of the records were systemic and were found in all areas of the state," council chairwoman Betty Busbee wrote in a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush.
"Numerous violations of both state and federal laws/rules were found," including commingled case files of siblings and improper consent forms for medical treatments and medications.
The investigation was prompted by reports in The Miami Herald that one in three children in state care was prescribed psychotropic drugs.
Calling the problems urgent and critical, Busbee asked Bush to take immediate action.
In a Friday letter to Busbee, Bush said he asked DCF Secretary Kathleen Kearney to meet with council members and discuss their concerns.
"The recent case of Rilya Wilson has raised very troubling questions about the state's performance in protecting children in the child welfare system," Bush wrote.
Rilya, a 5-year-old foster child from Miami, was last seen by a DCF worker in January 2001. Her caseworker was fired for filing fraudulent reports for visits that never took place.
"We have taken a hard look at the safety of the children in the care and custody of the state and at the oversight at DCF," Bush wrote. "Through raised awareness, we are striving to resolve these issues quickly and ensure that children in our care are properly supervised and cared for."
DCF officials did not return calls for comment.
Even the physical location of some children was missing from most files, the report said. Some files contained only the address for a private company under contract with the state to operate foster homes.
Katie Muniz, a Bush spokeswoman, said that problem should have been fixed by a massive effort to visit all kids in state care completed last month.
In their nine-page report to the governor, members of the Advocacy Council documented the widespread practice of enclosing signed, but mostly blank reports of visits to foster homes in children's case files. Council members also found signed, but blank documents that provided consent for children to receive both medical treatments and psychotropic drugs.
That means doctors could provide treatments and prescribed drugs without the consent of a parent, guardian or judge, as is required by state law. Instead, caseworkers were routinely allowed to provide consent for treatment and psychotropic drug use for children in foster care.
The council even found files in which doctors provided consent so that they could then administer psychotropic drugs themselves.
The report also found there was "virtually no documentation" about side effects.

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