Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

County Takes on New Role; Nassau: It'll Care for Abused Children

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

County Takes on New Role; Nassau: It'll Care for Abused Children

Article excerpt

Byline: Amelia A. Hart, Nassau Neighbors staff writer

As of March 1, Nassau County became responsible for caring for the county's abused and neglected children. And Nassau County officials are optimistic they can do that job better than the state did.

"There's local responsibility," County Commissioner Vickie Samus said. "People now have a local place, a local face, instead of some state bureaucrats in Jacksonville who don't have a clue. Local is better."

Nassau County is one of the latest counties affected by the state policy, known as community-based care, to privatize child welfare services.

State legislators in 1997 ordered the Department of Children and Family to shift foster care and related services to community agencies with the idea that local agencies could deliver better care than an unwieldy state system.

Nassau County is one of only two counties that have opted to become lead agencies for foster care. St. Johns County is the other. Private agencies administer child welfare services in other counties.

Samus said commissioners decided the county should take over because no local non-profit agencies wanted to do it.

"If there had been a private organization in Nassau County that had stepped up and said 'We want this,' it would have been different. But that didn't happen," Samus said. "The idea of plopping somebody in this area from somewhere else to try to help our kids was not an option."

DCF selected Nassau County to be the lead agency in June. The county created Family Matters of Nassau County, and hired Judith Dey to be its executive director. In December, DCF entered into a start-up contract with Nassau County to provide foster care and protective services. On March 1, Family Matters took over adoptions as well, and the $1.8 million contract was finalized.

Dey, who had retired to the Amelia Island Plantation after 25 years in child guidance, foster care and adoption services, including in New York and New Jersey, said she was excited about the prospect.

"What an opportunity to create a good child welfare service," she said.

Family Matters is based in the old Children and Families offices on Jasmine Street in Fernandina Beach, but Dey said it would relocate soon to a more central location in Yulee.

The department has 14 employees, compared with the approximately six DCF employees who handled Nassau County's cases, Dey said. That means Family Matters counselors have about 15 cases each, as opposed to state caseworkers' 40.

Family Matters also is taking a new approach to handling cases, she said. Families will be assigned a team of social workers who will stay with them from the beginning of their case through its completion, Dey said.

"This is not the same old, same old," Dey said. "We are going to be here for these families and with them. …

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