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Child welfare agency director is stepping down

Janice Johnson said she simply needs a break.

Johnson, chief executive officer of Kids Central Inc. _ the lead agency that took over child welfare cases from the Department of Children and Families in five area counties _ is leaving Feb. 8.

"My family and health have always been a personal priority, and I feel that both are being negatively impacted by the demands of the position," she wrote in her Jan. 6 resignation letter.

Johnson is the second top administrator to resign from Kids Central since District 13, which includes Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties, began making the transition to a privatized foster care system last year.

In June, then-executive director Jeff Rainey left Kids Central to work for Tampa Metro YMCA.

Since his departure, Johnson, 51, has helped Kids Central complete taking over foster care and protective services throughout the district.

Johnson, a longtime child welfare advocate who worked for DCF for 29 years, led the agency through a transition to community-based care that has faced its share of challenges.

In September, local child welfare authorities learned a computer glitch had made available thousands of confidential child abuse and foster care records to anyone with Internet access.

Those files contained information about 4,000 children under Kids Central's watch.

Under privatization, Kids Central has seen more case loads than it bargained for.

During contract negotiations, Johnson said, there were 2,874 abused, neglected and abandoned children being served in the district. As of Dec. 31, Kids Central was handling foster care and related services for 4,119 children.

Kids Central has an $83.9-million competitively bid contract, which went into effect in March and is expected to run through June 2007. It is not contingent on the number of children receiving foster care, meaning more cases doesn't mean more money to handle them.

"She has worked extremely hard, and she is greatly respected in the district," DCF District 13 administrator Don Thomas said. "It is a huge loss to KCI, especially at this point in time when they're facing some very difficult problems."

Thomas said Kids Central has not performed well in adoptions and has struggled to file the required paperwork in the courts. The district handled about 200 adoptions a year before privatization, Thomas said, but there have been fewer than 20 since Kids Central took over districtwide July 1.

Thomas said Kids Central is facing serious financial issues as well.

"I think we all have great faith in Janice," he said. "If anybody could resolve those issues, she could. There's serious concern on our part."

Despite increasing case loads and limited financial resources, Johnson said, Kids Central staff is working to improve adoption rates and to make sure required paperwork is submitted.

"It's been a pleasure and an honor to work with Kids Central," she said.

Johnson said she simply has been working too much, including weekends, late nights and early mornings. For example, she has been working to negotiate getting additional funding for Kids Central to do its work.

She added that a recent illness in her family led to her decision.

"I just thought it would be better for my family to step back and take a break," she said.