LARGO — Two years ago, following state scrutiny over the disappearance of a Florida foster child, Gov. Charlie Crist remarked that society does a better job of tracking packages than children.
Friday, Crist visited Pinellas County's Juvenile Welfare Board to celebrate the launch of mobile technology to help the state's welfare workers keep track of the children they visit.
"The most important thing we do is protect our children," Crist said.
The system, called Remote Data Capture, uses laptop computers, cameras and handheld mobile devices to help caseworkers file pictures and reports remotely. It also keeps them accountable with GPS technology that records where caseworkers have been and assigns time and date stamps to photos they take.
Florida is the first state in the country to introduce this technology and use it in child welfare, officials said.
George Sheldon, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, said caseworkers are asked to work miracles every day.
"We ought to be able to give them to tools to do that job," Sheldon said.
The new system has been used in the Miami area on an extensive basis, said Nick Cox, regional director of DCF.
In October, the state launched a pilot program. Since then, it has been implemented throughout the state. Different agencies are using the technology in different ways depending on their needs.
Katherine Toledo, who works for Directions for Mental Health, has been using the system for several months and said it helps her spend more time with children and submit more thorough notes.
Eckerd Community Alternatives, which provides child welfare services in Pinellas and Pasco Counties, has chiefly used the technology to allow caseworkers to file notes in the field. "It's a huge time saver for the caseworker that's already faced with one of the most difficult jobs you could have," said Lorita Shirley, executive director of the agency.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.