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Glitches slow DCF computer system

A $230-million computerized system touted as the way Florida's Department of Children and Families could easily and effectively track children in its care failed to work as planned during its first full week of use.

The HomeSafenet system has been behind schedule and over budget since it was started in 1994. It was supposed to be fully operational in all 67 Florida counties by Monday, but unspecified errors dramatically slowed down the system throughout the week, DCF workers and officials said.

"We asked for all of the investigators to limit their usage to emergency use, to urgent need," agency spokesman Bob Brooks said. "The system did wind up completely down for a total of eight hours (Monday). But it was back on Tuesday, though slower than it should have been. We have been gradually phasing in investigators."

Problems were still widespread Thursday, prompting Anne Nolan, a manager of the computerized project, to send an e-mail to all DCF child welfare workers telling them that technicians are "working diligently to restore the system to acceptable performance levels as quickly as possible."

Brooks said the computer system failures resulted from a decision to limit access to the system so some issues could be addressed.

"It wasn't a crash," Brooks said. "We just had a little problem, and we've got to fix it."

Part of the system has been operating for more than a year; caseworkers have been entering current reports into the system and the department is entering files dating to 2000. But children's advocates have long questioned if the system will be all the agency says it will be.

State Rep. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat, called the newest chapter in the HomeSafenet saga "outrageous."

"This is just an endless train of miscues and missteps that ultimately puts our most vulnerable children at risk," Gelber said.

The original cost estimate was $40-million for a system that was targeted for completion in 1999. Little was done during the first five years of the project. At one point, the plan nearly lost its funding.

The agency has been under scrutiny since agency officials acknowledged last year that Rilya Wilson was missing for 15 months before her disappearance was noticed. The Miami girl, who would now be 6, is still unaccounted for.

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