Report slams Sarasota foster care agency

11/06/07 Mitch E. Perry
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In a damning report released by the State Department of Children and Families last week, the Sarasota Family YMCA was urged to have a management overhaul, or have its contract with the state as a private social service provider canceled.

Today the DCF and the Sarasota YMCA jointly announced that the state is not severing the relationship completely, but will remove the organization from providing services for Pinellas and Pasco counties. The announcement was made this morning in Tampa by DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth.

For the last three years, the Sarasota YMCA has overseen foster care for the state in Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto, Pinellas and Pasco counties. But after the group lost track of 2-year-old Courtney Clark for 9 months, the DCF began investigating the organization.

Police ultimately found the girl safe, in a Wisconsin home – where they also found an injured and malnourished 11-year-old boy hiding in a closet. The body of the boy’s mother was buried in a yard.

Courtney’s mother, 23-year-old Candace Clark, and others were charged with killing the woman and abusing the boy.

The review released last week also revealed severe stress on caseworkers, with workers in Pinellas County having up to 40 cases each.

The Sarasota YMCA had been responsible for foster care in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties up until 2004. Considered one of the best private foster agencies in the state, it offered to take over in Pasco and Pinellas three years ago but fell short, as Secretary Butterworth noted.

Butterworth said he though the North County case loads had a bit much for the Sarasota YMCA, but they were doing great work in their home territory. But, in fact, the DCF report released last week said, “The current culture and attitude significantly impairs its ability to manage child welfare services, most significantly in Y South, and must change if it’s to be successful in the future.”

The review also said that the Sarasota YMCA management was defensive, arrogant and retaliatory against any who criticized or disagreed with it.

Judge Lee Hayworth is the chief judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit. He was introduced as being part of the negotiations which resulted in the settlement reached this week.

Butterworth’s assistant, George Sheldon, said bids are being taken to see who will provide social services for foster care in Pinellas and Pasco.

The Sarasota YMCA did sign a new contract with DCF, where they will continue to work in Sarasota, Desoto and Manatee counties until June 2009.

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