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CHILD TEAM TO HELP FIGHT FORT MYERS' BACKLOG

The investigators will work to clear 700 cases of child abuse and neglect.

A team from Pasco County's child protective investigations unit will travel to Fort Myers for four weeks to assist with a backlog of some 700 cases there, officials said.

The investigators handle cases of child abuse and neglect through a contract with the state Department of Children and Families.

Pasco's team, when it formed eight years ago, inherited 2,500 backlogged cases from the state, said Fawn Moore, the child protective manager at the Sheriff's Office.

The unit now has 30 investigators and eight supervisors. They handled 5,400 cases last year and currently have no backlog.

"We have not had one for at least five years," she said.

In other efforts at modernization, the department has now gone "paperless," storing all cases electronically and making it possible for case workers to read them in the field.

It has saved money and space, said Steve Blumenthal, the unit director.

"We can store seven years of disks in one file cabinet drawer," he said.

Total savings: $30,000 annually.

In addition, they've trimmed another $38,000 in payroll expenses, Moore said, by assigning a weekend team of investigators. Previously, staff members were paid overtime to work on rotating weekend shifts.

The department also recently added two training positions. Investigators used to be sent to the University of South Florida for 12 months of state-mandated training.

Now, Blumenthal said, the training is local to Pasco and creates more cost savings.

Moore said DCF will reimburse Pasco for the time of the five workers who go to Fort Myers.

"We're going to have to sacrifice a little bit with labor here, but we'll be able to manage," she said.

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