Florida the rules are different here Chapter CLXII
A former children's services worker, who was fired in 2002 and who in a resignation settlement agreed not to seek reemployment again with DCF, ends up doing casework again through a third party. Disgraced state employees never die, they just return via a side door. Don't you just love the Sunshine State?
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A child welfare worker was placed on unpaid administrative leave Friday while officials determine whether she was mistakenly hired after she broke the law twice in her previous post.
Loretta Scurry, 50, also known as Loretta Phipps, had worked as a case manager for Department of Children and Families in Fort Myers since 1989. According to personnel records, Scurry was fired in October 2002 for speeding with a child in a car and violating a state privacy statute.
She appealed that decision, which resulted in a resignation settlement that states, "The employee agrees not to seek reemployment with the Department of Children and Families and acknowledges and accepts that the agency will not reemploy her."
Just two months later, she was hired to an identical post at Lutheran Services in Fort Myers during a trial period for the agency before all DCF casework became privatized and was contracted out to Lutheran Services in 2004. Lutheran Services is funded by the Children's Network, which is funded by DCF.
Case managers are responsible for following up on complaints of child abuse, interviewing abused and neglected children and preparing case plans for families in the system.
On Friday, the day after The News-Press began inquiring about Scurry's employment, the agency placed her on leave while they investigate. Scurry did not respond to requests for comment.
"We just received notice of this," said Patricia Leonard, Lutheran Services regional director. "We are investigating it, and she is now on administrative leave pending the outcome."
Aimee McLaughlin, spokeswoman for the Children's Network, said it was her understanding that other child welfare agencies were not given access to Scurry's resignation settlement when they requested to review her personnel file. But when The News-Press requested her files from Lutheran Services, that paperwork was at the top of the stack. McLaughlin said many DCF case managers were hired by Lutheran Services when DCF privatized.
"Any DCF worker who wanted to come over would be accepted," she said. "And we took a large majority of the workers who were already working in those positions when they chose to apply."
But Scurry's situation is different because of the circumstances surrounding her dismissal and subsequent resignation. Records show several written and oral reprimands over the years, many for "unprofessional behavior," poor case management and low attendance. One of the most serious incidents was a supervised visit between a mother and child in 2000.
"At some time during this visit, you left the visitation room to go to your office," states a reprimand written by Scurry's supervisor, Barbara Duvall. "This was in direct violation of operating procedure, which addresses visitation of sheltered children. It was also a direct violation of a court order. While you were out of the visitation room, the child injured his head."
The year before, she was reprimanded in a review for failing to follow up with six children under her supervision.
But it wasn't until 2002 that Scurry was forced to leave. The first incident occurred in June when she reportedly disclosed in open court the identity of a person who reported abuse of a child — information that is protected under state law. The second was a traffic violation in which she allegedly drove 90 mph in a 60-mph zone while she was transporting a teenage child in protective custody. DCF records show she told her boss she had been stopped because, "I'm black and I have a white child in my car."
Maureen Weber is a grandmother whose son and daughter-in-law reportedly dealt with Scurry when she worked for DCF. She said she complained to Scurry's bosses about her "rudeness" over the course of that investigation, and was notified when Scurry left. She was astonished to learn she was hired to an identical job.
"Why would anybody hire her back?" Weber said. "It's very upsetting to me."
DCF spokeswoman Kristi Sonntag said her office does not regulate the hiring practices of those they contract. "If Lutheran Services wanted to hire someone, that was to their discretion," she said. "There's no direct line of authority between DCF and Lutheran Services."
McLaughlin, the Children's Network spokeswoman, said her office contracts many other agencies and doesn't review hiring practices with the exception of random annual audits and in cases where an issue is brought to their attention. Since her employment at Lutheran Services, most of Scurry's reviews have been either outstanding or excellent, except for a few complaints lodged against her for unprofessional behavior.
If she is cleared after the investigation, she will receive retroactive pay, McLaughlin said. If the investigation determines she should not have been hired, the date she was placed on leave will be considered her date of termination. The review could take up to two weeks to complete.