THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Nov. 15, 2011…..As the 2012 session approaches, Florida’s 20 community based care agencies, which take on some of the state’s child welfare work, are preparing for intense scrutiny by a Senate committee that plays a key role in their oversight.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon and chair of the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, wants another round of data for an interim project – already delayed – examining the CBCs’ finances. She also filed a bill that would cap salaries at non-governmental organizations funded primarily by taxpayers, including the CBCs.

“I’m going to try to increase their accountability this session,” she said.

On Sept. 28, Storms sent a letter to the CBC board presidents, requesting four years of data on their administrators’ salaries, bonuses and other perks, due Oct. 14. She followed up on Oct. 24 with a series of questions on CBC-funded health care services, collaboration with courts and schools, case management, grant writing, psychotropic medications and more – with responses due today, Nov. 15.

All the CBCs are complying, said Michael Cusick, CEO of the Florida Coalition for Children, which lobbies for the agencies. But their boards of directors are “concerned about the amount of time, that it’s a distraction,” he said.

Storms said she’s interested only in quantifiable results. For instance, if a CBC has a program for pregnant teens, she wants to know how many are getting parenting classes and job training.

“How many of those girls don’t have their children come back into the system?” she said. “Not how many great brochures do you have with pretty flowers on them…[but] how many girls graduate with some marketable skill and some hope of going on to postsecondary education or are certified to work so they can support themselves?

“Those are all measurable outcomes, and I think, for the money that’s being spent, people want to know these things,” Storms said.

Florida’s 20 CBC lead agencies have contracts worth a total of $756 million for the current fiscal year, said Department of Children and Families spokesman Joe Follick. More money for adoption subsidies will be allocated later, based on the number of adoptions.

Cusick said Floridians are getting a bargain. Although the state “ranks close to the bottom” in spending on its child welfare system, he said, “by every federal measure we’re either equal to or greater than everyone else in the country.”

Florida spends $37,462 per child in the state’s welfare system, according to a study by DCF, the Casey Family Programs and Cusick’s Florida Coalition for Children; the national average is $52,000. In Florida, the average length of stay in foster care is 20.2 months, compared to 27.2 months nationwide. And the study found that Florida’s foster care enrollment dropped by 36 percent between 2005 and 2010.

“Experts are saying we’re doing more with less with the CBC system,” said Cusick.

He called the CBCs “the most studied entities in government.” He keeps a list of such studies and says it’s up to 60. “[The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability] studies them constantly; there’s usually more than one OPPAGA study every year. There’s more than one legislative committee study every year. [The University of South Florida] studies them every year, under contract with DCF. There are federal studies…”

Additionally, Cusick said, DCF monitors the lead agencies’ performance and spending. “They have to submit detailed cost reports as if they were a state agency – monthly. They’re completely micromanaged.”

In the past, Storms has been a strong supporter of the ten-year-old CBC system. But now, she says, “It’s time to readjust the responsibility level.”

Her salary-cap bill would “force the CBCs to account for their executive salaries – and they should. They absolutely should,” Storms said. “I think it’s offensive to the taxpayers for some of these people to hold up little children as the defense, as the shield, for why they’re making $300,000.”

The annual base pay of chief executive officers at the CBCs ranged from $138,176 to $307,977 in 2007 and 2008, according to federal tax forms. In 2010, bonuses as high as $28,024 were distributed to top administrators.

But Cusick said the CEO with the $300,000-plus salary only costs the taxpayers about $80,000, since he oversees multiple programs and is paid from multiple sources.

“There are other people with salaries – why just the CBCs?” he said. “These folks are the most studied and the most transparent.”

Storms said her bill would apply to all non-governmental organizations that get the bulk of their funding from the state.

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Alexia Nechayev

FYS Events & Meeting Chair
(Palm Beach)

Hello, My name is Alexia Nechayev. I am 25 years old and I am an alumna of Florida International University where I received my B.A. in Psychology. My future career goal is to be a Lawyer. I was in care for about one year from age 17 to 18. Prior to entering care, I only knew about the negative stigma regarding foster care and while in care that narrative was unfortunately my experience.

In school I felt like I was on display because my status in care was broadcast to other students and in my placement behavior was leveraged for “privileges” that should be a natural right of all children. Because I did not know my rights I did not know that what I was experiencing was wrong. Today this is exactly why I advocate, because I don’t want this to be the same for other youth who are experiencing foster care.

This is my second year on the FYS Statewide Board and I’m happy to be the Events and Meetings Chair this year because my main goal through advocacy is to reach as many people as possible. My favorite thing as a board member is to see how comfortable members become while working together. The community needs to know that youth in foster care are real people, going through some of the hardest moments of their life and youth need to know that their voice is powerful. I believe that we have to speak up and bring these issues to people’s attention so that they do not forget us. Advocacy, education and consistency is the only way.

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