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Foster care records assailed

Record keepers for the Juvenile Court have failed to make sure children in foster homes have made regular appearances before the judges who decide whether they should be adopted, a report states. The Oct. 25 audit of the Juvenile Court Records Department was conducted by the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

Florida statutes require that children placed into foster care appear before a judge within six months. They also require that children who remain in foster care appear before a judge every six months.

The judge decides whether the children should be eligible for adoption and permanent homes, rather than remaining in temporary foster care.

The procedure, known as judicial review, also is monitored by the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. During 1989, the county clerk's office scheduled 347 judicial reviews, the audit states.

According to the audit, court officials designed a computer tracking system in September 1989, but the electronic system never has run.

The clerk who tracked youngsters for the county using her own system retired in December and has not been replaced.

Sandy Combee, director of court services for the clerk's office, said she is not aware of any children missing an opportunity to find a permanent home because of a missed court date.

"There have been no complaints that we're aware of," she said.

"We, obviously, take great pride in our record keeping," Combee said. "It's just a matter of fine-tuning our operation, along with the necessary automation."

Officials had hoped the automated tracking system would be working by now, but the computer program designed in 1989 had flaws and never was corrected, said Carol Munster, assistant director of the court services division.

Munster said she expects the computer system to be ready within four to six weeks.