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Study: Fla. Agency Doesn’t Probe Families

September 24, 2004

MIAMI (AP) _ State child-welfare workers in Miami often failed to perform criminal background checks before placing a child in the home of a relative or family friend, according to a study by Florida’s beleaguered social services agency.

Caseworkers failed to perform a national criminal background check in 44 percent of cases reviewed recently by the Department of Children & Families in Miami. In 37 percent, investigators did not check the department’s own computerized child-abuse records.

The agency has come under scrutiny since a Miami foster child named Rilya Wilson disappeared while in the state-approved care of a woman with a lengthy criminal record.

As of May, 4,331 children in DCF’s Miami district were in some type of out-of-home care, living either with foster parents, relatives or family friends.

The findings are part of a study of the state’s child-welfare program in Miami-Dade and neighboring Monroe County, conducted in advance of a national audit by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The audit gauges the state’s compliance with federal child welfare regulations.

The report shows DCF’s Miami district failed to meet federal standards for all 13 general categories, such as the thoroughness and timeliness of child abuse investigations, the well-being of foster children and efforts to find permanent homes for children in care.

The report also showed that private child welfare agencies often performed better than DCF. The Miami district is set to shift management of most child welfare functions to private providers next year.

Peter D. Coats, a spokesman for the Miami DCF district, said the study was meant to help improve social work in Miami.

``We believe we are moving in the right direction,″ Coats told The Miami Herald for Friday’s editions.

Earlier this month, the agency’s chief resigned amid questions over how he dealt with contracting child welfare work out to private companies.

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