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Florida Uses Electronic Records to Place Foster Kids in Relatives’ Homes Out-of-State

June 5th, 2009   No Comments   Foster Care

Waiting for a permanent home for weeks or months may feel like an eternity to a Florida child in foster care.

It is especially frustrating when a grandmother, aunt or other relative living out of state is ready and willing to provide a home for a boy or girl removed from a family because of abuse or neglect.

The Florida Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) response has been to implement a fully electronic database to facilitate the transfer of dependent children outside of Florida.

Once the Department committed itself last year to speeding up out-of-state transfer of a child by using electronic records, DCF has significantly reduced the time it takes to exchange required information about the child with the appropriate state. Florida is the leader among the states in its use of electronic records for what is known as the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC).

The price-tag on converting to electronic records was $3,000, and about $100,000 a year is being saved on postage.Stephen Pennypacker, who is in charge of DCF’s interstate transfer of children, has just been elected as national president of the Association of Administrators of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.

“We’ve had caseworkers walk into court, seek an order for an Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, the judge grants the motion and the request is electronically transmitted out of state the same day. The process used to take weeks and sometimes longer,” said Pennypacker, who is special counsel to the Family Safety Program at DCF. “My main goal is to seek to establish an electronic database for all interstate compact requests nationwide.”

As many as 2,500 abused and neglected children in Florida in foster care or other out-of-home care are relocated each year to homes out of state, once a judge approves such a placement. Another 1,500 dependent children typically are moved into Florida each year from another state.

“Florida’s electronic database for transfer of abused and neglected children to relatives out of state provides a 21st century solution to our previous less efficient and more expensive process of sending paper files from person to person,” DCF Secretary George Sheldon said on Tuesday. “We are getting foster children faster to the safety and permanency of a home with a loving grandma or other relative living out of state. This supports our long-term goal of safely and significantly reducing the number of children in foster care.”

Judge Cindy Lederman of The Eleventh Judicial Circuit’s juvenile court said, “Florida’s use of electronic records to place foster children more quickly with relatives out of state is indicative of a change of culture at DCF, where the agency is taking a fresh, smart look at helping dependent children find safe, permanent homes and working closely with its partners in the court system.”

Florida is sharing its database software and its expertise to help other states improve their process. Within Florida, electronic files are accessible to the people involved in the ICPC process, from caseworkers to judges, attorneys and guardians ad litem.

Nancy Wilkov, general magistrate in The Eighth Judicial Circuit and a former guardian ad litem attorney, said, “The recent innovations have had a dramatic impact on many of the children in our care. ICPC home study requests are being submitted and processed much more rapidly and much more efficiently. Allowing the judges and magistrates access to the electronic database enables us to closely monitor the progress of the home studies and to take immediate action to eliminate unnecessary delays. These improvements have benefited and will continue to benefit countless children caught up in the dependency system.”

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