Monday, July 30, 2007

State Sen. Ronda Storms Wants To Hold Public Hearings Statewide to Ensure Mistakes Like Those in Courtney Clark's case Are Not Repeated.

By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer

SARASOTA - The downtown headquarters of the Sarasota Family YMCA is in a 10-story Spanish-style building flanked by stately palm trees. A chandelier lights the marble-floored lobby. Valet parking out front is free.

The Sarasota YMCA, which entered the state's foster care business 10 years ago, is now one of the oldest and richest private child welfare agencies in Florida.

Since 1998, its first full year of foster work, the Sarasota YMCA's annual revenue has grown 379 percent, from $19-million to $91-million.

It receives $72-million to care for abused and neglected children in five counties, including Pinellas and Pasco. Last year its CEO, Carl Weinrich, made $254,000, far more than the man who oversees the state's entire child welfare system.

But for all the money, the Sarasota YMCA is faltering in its most basic mission: protecting children. Though its funding per child was the highest among 20 community child care agencies, its overall performance was the worst. In several key categories, including salaries of caseworkers, it ranks at or near the bottom, state records show.

In the last two months, the Sarasota YMCA's shortcomings were revealed in two high-profile cases: a 2-year-old former Pinellas County foster girl, Courtney Clark, who disappeared for nine months, and an 18-month-old Manatee County girl who suffocated under a stove.

"The Sarasota YMCA in the last couple of years has gotten away from being focused on the children," said Andrea Moore, executive director of the advocacy group Florida's Children First.

State Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, who chairs the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, said she wants to hold public hearings statewide to ensure mistakes like those in Courtney Clark's case are not repeated.

Titled and Abridged for E.A. read entire story here >>

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