FGCU Partners with DCF to Improve Services to Dependent Children
FORT MYERS, FL - For children in Southwest Florida removed from their homes and placed in shelters, the College of Professional Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University and the Department of Children and Families are offering a “single point of access” referral system in a major effort to maximize the quality and coordination of comprehensive assessment services.
According to dean of the college, Johnny McGaha, the new $163,000 contract is a great opportunity for FGCU to become involved in monitoring and maintaining quality of services to our region’s most at-risk children. “This contract will allow us to act as a broker between the State Department of Children and Family Services, and the various children’s services assessment providers for the five counties in District 8, as well as monitoring quality assurance, to make sure the kids are getting the most effective and realistic assessments,” McGaha said.
FGCU hired Dan England, formally of DCF, as director of the new program called Comprehensive Assessment and Referral Services, or CARS. “When families come to the attention of DCF, there are tremendous needs both for the children and the entire family system,” England said. “There are issues of domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness and other stressors for the family. We need to be sure they are getting all the services we can provide in a timely manner.”
“Families present to us ‘symptoms’ or inappropriate ways of dealing with their problems,” therapeutic evaluator for the program, Barbara Lantz, said. “By streamlining this process we hope to treat not only their immediate needs, or ‘symptoms’, but also to increase the family’s chances to opt for new solutions to their problems.”
Some of the children in and out of home care require services that are more intensive. The therapeutic evaluation portion of the program determines what extra care children need. This can be as minor as extra counseling or as restrictive as a psychiatric facility. Lantz explained, “Before we place a child in a more restrictive placement, we need to be sure we have exhausted all of the resources in the community. We have to do all we can to keep children in the most homelike setting that we can.”
Another function of this program is to identify gaps in services for children and families. According to England, “Especially in these times of budget shortfalls, we need to be sure we are using our resources wisely, but must also look at areas where we have a lack of services. It’s really exciting to see all of the things we can do in this partnership to help children achieve permanency in their lives and help families to thrive.”
For more information, contact England at (941) 590-7854 or Debra Webb of the DCF at (941) 338-1434.