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"Do it right' is goal of new Children and Families director

Published Sep. 13, 2005

In the social services field, some people work with clients and some people crunch numbers. Pamela Paulik has done quite a bit of both.

Ms. Paulik began work this week as administrator for the Department of Children and Families district that includes Citrus County. Ms. Paulik, who holds a master's degree in business administration, will oversee a $50-million plus budget and supervise more than 600 employees.

She also holds a bachelor's degree in social work and has worked with welfare clients in Cleveland and Florida.

"I can be the people person . . . on the other hand, I can be a strong, fiscally minded person," Ms. Paulik said Thursday during an introductory interview session at district headquarters in Wildwood.

As administrator in District 13, which also includes Hernando, Marion, Lake and Sumter counties, Ms. Paulik likely will be in the office more than the field. And there will be no shortage of topics to tackle.

Chief among them will be developmental services, a department that has been under fire since last summer. Investigators found mismanagement and poor training that led to the department spending more than $1-million in state and federal money to help existing clients instead of serving additional clients, as was expected.

"At this point, we're feeling really good about where we're headed," Ms. Paulik said of developmental services. "The bottom line: Do it right. Do it according to the rules."

A corrective action plan is in place and being followed, she said; meanwhile, former department leader Carole Perez has been fired and a new leader is on the job. The department helps provide services and coordinate government funding for clients with developmental disabilities such as spina bifida, autism and Down's syndrome.

General funding is another obstacle. Since being created five years ago, District 13 often has been under-funded by the state Legislature. In other words, the district has less money to handle its client load than most other districts.

"We have tried everything we could to enlighten the Legislature," said Walter Dry, of Spring Hill, chairman of the Health and Human Services Board, which helps advise and oversee the district. "They have listened, but we are still not in a position to say we have parity."

Ms. Paulik, noting that the district's fiscal year begins July 1, said she will review the budget carefully. Her first question: "Are we doing the best we can with the resources we have?"

If the answer is yes, she said, she will lobby for as much money as is necessary to meet the district's goals. District 13, like most DCF districts, handles a wide array of social services _ everything from investigating complaints of abuse and neglect against children and seniors to coordinating the food stamp and public assistance programs.

Some districts are experimenting with privatization. In fact, District 13 is embarking on a pilot plan to privatize foster care services in Lake and Sumter counties.

Ms. Paulik said she keeps anopen mind on the subject. "If it (privatization) will better service children and families, it's fine," she said.

Ms. Paulik expresses that philosophy on most subjects. She said she had no plans for immediate administrative restructuring or drastic personnel moves.

"My style is to be as easygoing . . . as possible," Ms. Paulik said. However, she said, "We've got to do it right the first time."

She was encouraged to hear of plans to create a Citrus advisory board, which would help the agency meet its goals here. Local DCF administrator Sascha Lipczenko has called a May 7 meeting to get the process started.

"Being involved with the community partners is critical," she said. "We can't operate in a vacuum with them, and vice versa . . . these are community issues."

She met Friday with department heads to review progress on the goals for the current year. District leaders will meet with DCF Secretary Ed Feaver in the coming months to establish new goals for 1998-99.

Meanwhile, Ms. Paulik and Dry are traveling from county to county meeting staff and soliciting ideas.

"This is a small enough district," she said. "You can get some really good ideas."