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Central Florida Foster Care Agency Failed to Pay Bills, Caused Kids to Sleep in Offices, Suit Says

Embrace Families, the lead agency for foster care in Central Florida, is being sued by a contractor that says the nonprofit owes it more than $1.3 million for services it provided, including for children who had to sleep in the contractor’s offices because space was not available in foster homes.

An unexpectedly high number of children needing care have “overwhelmed” the foster care system during the past couple of years, prompting a crisis, according to the complaint filed last month in Orange County Circuit Court by Children’s Home Society of Florida.

The nonprofit is alleging that Embrace Families, which administers foster care and related services for roughly 3,000 children in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, did not reimburse it for expenses, including transportation to school and medical appointments, as well as mentoring services, for children sleeping in Children’s Home Society offices. Embrace Families has said in recent weeks it is in dire financial straits and may have to abandon its foster care role.

A spokeswoman for Children’s Home Society, which serves at-risk and foster children across the state, declined to comment on the matter.

Maureen Brockman, a spokeswoman for Embrace Families, wrote that the complaint concerns expenses beyond the organization’s original $32 million contract with Children’s Home Society, which ended last year. The two nonprofits are in mediation and working to resolve the dispute, she added.

Embrace Families is in a “financial emergency” and board members wrote last month in a letter to the state that they expect to run out of money in the coming months. Though Embrace Families gave the required six months notice to end the organization’s contract with the Department of Children and Families, board members also warned the state they anticipate they will deplete the nonprofit’s funding “much earlier than that date.”

Embrace Families is one of more than a dozen organizations across the state that manage these services through contracts with DCF. A spokesperson for the department told the Sentinel the department has expressed concerns for over a year that the organization was mismanaging its finances, placing children in unlicensed settings and providing too little support to its contractors.

But Embrace Families has blamed rising expenses and insufficient support from the state for its financial woes. Board chair Angela Folger wrote in an email to the Sentinel that the area is home to 12% of the state’s children, yet Embrace Family receives only 7% of the funding provided to the organizations that manage foster care across the state.

Gerry Glynn, the organization’s interim chief operating officer, noted that disparity this week in his comments to the Orange County Legislative Delegation, which met on Wednesday in Orlando. The group includes state House and Senate members whose districts are located partially or entirely in Orange County.

He also said the Legislature had agreed to fund a request from the Embrace Families for nearly $13 million to cover deficits, but that DCF has not released all of the money to the organization. As a result, Glynn said, board members decided to end the state contract.

“Despite consistent efforts to collaborate, it became clear that we were not making progress with the department,” Glynn said.

But a bill filed less than a week after board members wrote to the state could help Central Florida in the future, he said. The legislation, filed by Sen. Ileana Garcia, R-Miami, is intended to promote “prevention, family preservation, and permanency” and provides financial incentives to lead agencies in the foster care system that achieve those goals. Embrace Families leaders have said they are penalized unfairly for keeping more children with their families, which diminishes the funding they receive from the state.

Glynn encouraged local lawmakers to support the bill, saying that he thinks it could result in a funding increase of as much as 20% for whichever organization steps in as the area’s lead agency.

“We think the children and families in Central Florida deserve a more equitable funding formula and we would encourage you all to continue to support that push for equitable funding,” Glynn said.

Source: Orlando Sentinel