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Children's Private Records Posted Online In Florida

Available online were the names of children, as well as birth dates, Social Security numbers, photographs, case histories, and even directions to foster homes.
MIAMI (AP) -- In another black eye for Florida's child-welfare agency, officials acknowledged that confidential records for nearly 4,000 abused and neglected children were available on the Internet until this week.

The files were accessible on the Web site of Kids Central, a privately run children's agency, and included names of children, as well as details such as birth dates, Social Security numbers, photographs, case histories and even directions to foster homes.

"We have taken immediate action when it became apparent there was a flaw," said Don Thomas, the top administrator in central Florida for the state Department of Children and Families.

The department ordered the Web site shut down Wednesday, said Janice Johnson, CEO of Kids Central.

The agency has been under fire over a series of high-profile child welfare cases, including the disappearance of 5-year-old foster child Rilya Wilson 15 months before officials realized she was gone. Rilya remains missing.

The Web-site problem stemmed from a computer system called CoBRIS that Kids Central began using in April or May. It was designed to let private caseworkers access child-welfare information using an online network called HomeSafenet.

Confidential information became available because requests to the state's computer help desk, from caseworkers who had trouble using HomeSafenet, could be viewed online without passwords. Some of the replies included user names and passwords to access confidential files.

"We take very, very seriously the confidentiality of client information," Johnson said. "We have already made changes. We are resetting every password, and we are changing the process by which we give out passwords."

CoBRIS, which stands for Community Based Resource Information System, was developed by the Tallahassee company Edmetrics Inc. A message was left Thursday seeking comment from Edmetrics officials.

The company was founded by James Bax, who headed the state welfare department in the 1970s. A friend of Bax who backed the CoBRIS project, Ben Harris, resigned as the agency's information chief in July after a report found he took gifts and trips from companies contracting with the agency.

Also Wednesday, a report by the department found that Florida's detention center for violent sexual offenders is plagued by incompetence and corruption.

Authorities investigating the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia found that a coordinator was fired after allegations that he dealt marijuana inside the facility.

The report also was critical of staffers' handling of a troubled resident who was hospitalized after jumping off a roof.

Liberty Behavioral Health Corp. of Pennsylvania runs the center under contract. It did not have a listed telephone number.

The center was created after the Legislature passed a law in 1998 allowing some sex offenders who have completed their criminal sentences to be held indefinitely for mental-health treatment.