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Pasco child abuse office put on probation

The social service agency that helps investigate Pasco County child abuse cases has found trouble of its own.

The state Department of Health placed the Pasco Family Protection Team on probation late last month after an "unacceptable" review, according to a letter from a state official to the agency.

That and other documents were released to the St. Petersburg Times on Thursday night as a result of a public records request.

The documents indicate that the team is being ordered to open itself to constant scrutiny from state officials, allow the state to oversee all of its budget and personnel decisions, take further steps to protect client confidentiality and justify why state money has been used to pay part of executive director Rick Hess's salary.

Michael Haney, the health official who notified the team of its probation, was not available Friday to further explain the conditions.

The review of the team, which was scheduled for early next year, was moved to this fall after a handful of employees resigned and some made sexual harassment allegation against Hess.

At the state's request, the team hired New Port Richey private investigator Mike Holden to look into the sexual harassment claims. As of Oct. 25, Holden had not found any evidence to substantiate the claims, according to a letter from the team to state officials.

"It's been a very difficult few months," Hess said.

The team provides medical and psychological assessments of children who are suspected to be abuse victims. In some cases it helps determine a plan for keeping the children safe. Essentially, it helps control the front door to the foster care system. For those responsibilities, it is contracted by the state. That's why the state became involved in an investigation, Haney has said.

"No kids were at risk through this whole time," Hess said.

The probation runs until Feb. 15, documents state. Holden's review should become available next week.