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I-TEAM: Agency tasked with managing foster care cases loses its contract

Contract ended after recent report detailing 'overwhelmed' caseworkers

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The lead agency for foster care and adoption in Duval and Nassau counties has ended its contract with an agency it tasked with managing hundreds of foster care cases in Northeast Florida.

This comes after a recent report detailing “overwhelmed” caseworkers and a potential problem with the financial viability of the Children’s Home Society (CHS) Buckner Division.

A spokesperson for Family Support Services of North Florida (FSSNF) sent the News4Jax I-TEAM an email, saying, "While the Jan./Feb. 2019 monitoring report did point out serious deficiencies, it was not the reason FSSNF discontinued the case management contract."

According to the spokesperson, "Issues in the Jan./Feb. 2019 monitoring report were the latest among numerous issues going back to 2017."

Natalie Clayton, vice president of FSSNF, said in a statement that FSSNF decided to discontinue subcontracting with CHS Buckner Division for case management services after CHS Buckner Division was found to have an unsustainable ratio of cases for each worker. 

"There has been concern around the Buckner Division’s underperformance for some length of time," Clayton said. "Those concerns center primarily around an unsustainable ratio of cases per dependency worker that falls outside of contract limits and an inability to timely attain permanency and adoptions that could not finalize within reasonable timelines."

The I-TEAM has requested the reports dating back to 2017.

The report from Jan. and Feb. 2019 summarizes interviews with three staff members at CHS. According to the report, "Some staff expressed they do not feel supported by their supervisor and feel overwhelmed at times. The staff stated there are only three transporters and expressed that they need more transporters to assist with visits and medical appointments."

The report also details compliance rates over the last five years. The findings outlined that the case closure rate was 3% in 2017 and 39% in 2018. 

The annual monitoring report also scored the financial viability of the agency. According to the report, inspectors found the financial viability of CHS was a potential problem. 

"It is not in the best interest of children and families when the system of care is strained and not meeting the requisite standard of excellence the children and families of our community deserve. We believe this change will improve our system of care," Clayton said.

Tracey McDade, executive director of CHS, said their audit found no financial issues. 

"Our commitment to children is matched only by our deep dedication to fiscal stewardship. It’s important to note that, not only does CHS have a strong balance sheet with positive net assets, but the organization is also audited by a globally recognized CPA firm, and there have been no material findings in our audit," McDade said in a statement. 

The statement continued: ""Dependency case management is extremely difficult work, and the entire CHS leadership team has been fully committed to supporting our front line. Though we are transitioning this contract, our commitment to the children and families in Duval County will not waver."

McDade also said the agency will continue to partner with FSSNF for other services,

"We look forward to continuing our partnership with Family Support Services of North Florida as we work together to help more local children and families through Children’s Home Society of Florida’s Acute Intervention Team, our Transitional Trauma Team, our Family Visitation Program, our Medically Needy Foster Home program, and our comprehensive adoption program," McDade said. "Additionally, CHS will continue to serve local children and families through half a dozen other programs, from counseling and Early Head Start and our nationally recognized Community Partnership Schools."

According to a NSSNF spokesperson, National Youth Advocate Program is taking over the case management service.

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.