Saturday, January 5, 2008

Butterworth Making Changes in DCF


Since he took charge of the Department of Children and Family Services almost a year ago, Secretary Bob Butterworth has vowed to change the culture of the agency some say has been failing for decades.

So far he's made the agency more transparent while trying to make it more helpful to children.

Earlier this year, 2-year-old Courtney Clark disappeared. The foster child was taken from her Central Florida home but was not reported missing for four months. The case received national attention and the girl was eventually found in squalid conditions in Wisconsin.

In addition to that latest individual case crisis, at the beginning of the year the agency itself was reeling from fines and criminal contempt charges for keeping mentally ill inmates in jail — rather than a state hospital — longer than Florida law allows.

Child advocates gave Butterworth high marks for his crisis management skills, his overall handling of the sprawling agency and making information easier to access.

"I think the secretary is working hard to change the culture and especially in transparency," said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, and a member of the Children, Families and Elder Affairs committee. "In previous administrations, that was not the case."

But children advocates say the system is far from fixed.

"It has been decades in the tearing down in the Department of Children and Families in the state of Florida," said Andrea Moore, executive director of Florida Children Services Council. "It will not be fixed in two or three years. (Butterworth is) trying to re-engineer the system that's been so fractured for the last two decades."

When Courtney Clark was found, Butterworth made no excuses.

"We do not sometimes use common sense when common sense was needed," Butterworth said at a news conference at the time.

He formed a task force to investigate Clark's case and how the system can be improved. It determined a lack of communication and poor oversight as reasons for the girl's unnoticed disappearance.

In November, the department hired Ed Hardy to serve as director of Criminal Justice Services to act as a liaison between the department and law enforcement, the courts and juvenile justice.

Despite the gains, critics maintain there is still too much bureaucracy. Butterworth agrees and said much of the ongoing difficulty is with contractors for the department. He said he's addressing it.

"I believe they're on board," Butterworth said. "But it hasn't gotten down to the people. That takes time."

Butterworth said he wants the agency to work faster, placing children in homes within days instead of months.

"Time is one of the biggest issues I'm dealing with," he said. "(The children) get bounced around a lot. We want to reduce that. I want to get that down to seven days instead of months and months."

This could mean placing children in homes outside of Florida, Butterworth said.

Department officials hope to help make the agency more efficient if the Legislature approves a reorganization plan it has to align its districts with those of circuit courts.

"It allows more local input at the local level," Butterworth said.

As with all state agencies, dwindling state funds will be a challenge next year.

"We will need more money," Butterworth said. "It appears the Legislature won't have much left, (so) we may not be getting the increase we need."

But by being more transparent, the agency could be saving money anyway.

"Money that could be spent on lawsuits (to gain access to public records), is being spent on children," Moore said.

1 comment:

cleo said...

Ed Hardy to 'act' as liaison between DCF and law enforcement, the courts and juvenile justice???

Did they check his 'act' of liaison when he was 'Chief' of the Broward School(kids) Board police??

Florida kids at risk deserve the best person with character to watch over them...