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GPS TO TRACK DCF CASES, CASEWORKERS

Florida's child welfare workers will soon be carrying handheld Global Positioning System devices, similar to ones carried by UPS employees to track packages, to electronically update case information during home visits and show they were made.

The touch screen devices will track the amount of time caseworkers spend with each family, and provide a photographic record of children in state care, officials said Thursday.

Gov. Charlie Crist and Department of Children and Families Secretary Bob Butterworth unveiled the book-sized devices after a news conference in front of a UPS truck.

Florida is the first state to use such technology to track child welfare cases, Butterworth said.

Last year, a 2-year-old foster child was missing for four months before police began searching for her. A child protection task force Butterworth created after that case recommended better coordinating efforts and communication between law enforcement and child welfare agencies. The panel also suggested changing laws to simplify reporting and finding missing children.

Child welfare workers currently record home visits on paper forms, then type the information into a state database when they return to the office. That process can take up to 60 days, Crist said.

Officials said the handheld devices will eliminate paperwork, allow caseworkers to update and track files in the database throughout the day and trigger alerts about problems. For example, an alert would be sent to supervisors if no home visit was recorded for a child within 31 days, Butterworth said.

Crist has recommended $10-million in the next fiscal year's budget to provide the devices statewide. Fifteen of the devices will be tested first in Miami-Dade County, Butterworth said. Hillsborough County will also test software for the device, officials said.

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