State rates high for checking on foster kids
Published: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2006 at 11:55 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Florida does better than most states at making regular visits to foster families to check on the safety and welfare of children, according to a government report that raises concern about several other states.
The report by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, expected to be released today, found that while Florida child welfare officials have been regularly checking up on foster kids, children in many other states aren't being visited regularly by case workers.
Florida is one of 43 states that aim for monthly visitation of foster children by caseworkers - but one of only a few that come close to hitting that goal.
In 2003, during nine months that federal officials studied Florida's visitation rate, state Department of Children and Families caseworkers made a monthly visit 95 percent of the time on average.
By comparison, California officials managed to make the monthly goal 86 percent of the time, and Texas hit that mark 75 percent of the time. Some states were much lower: In West Virginia, caseworkers were able to make prescribed monthly visits 42 percent of the time on average and officials there said staffing made it impossible to do much better.
Many states couldn't provide data on how well they were doing in the measure, another concern of the inspector general.
Advocates generally say foster care children should be seen at least once a month to check on their well-being.
"Our standard says that's the minimum of how often children should be seen," said Linda Spears, vice president of communication at the Child Welfare League of America.
Spears said Florida's improvements came in the wake of some high profile cases in which children fell through the cracks.
The most infamous case was that of foster child Rilya Wilson, whose disappearance when she was 5 years old forced changes in state child care. Her body was never found, but investigators think she was killed around December 2000, about 15 months before state DCF officials realized she was missing and reported it to police.
"Because of the issues they've had to deal with around the Rilya case, they have paid attention to it," Spears said. "This was one of those things where I think the agency said we are not performing at our best..." and made changes.
Spears said the next step, however, is to make sure that caseworkers gather valuable information to protect children.
"It's not important to just walk into a house and just say hi to a foster child," Spears said. The IG's report didn't measure the quality of visits, only how often states were meeting goals for visits.
DCF officials, often under fire in recent years, said they were pleased to be recognized.
"Florida's success at visiting the nearly 50,000 children in foster care monthly places child safety at the forefront and allows us to have consistent and engaging interaction with children and their families," DCF spokesman Zoraya Suarez said in a statement.
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