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St. Petersburg Times

Virgilio "Billy'' Ramos-Cosme: "No News Is Good News' For Family Services Official


August 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved. 

During his 13 years with the Department of Children and Families staff in Citrus County, Virgilio "Billy'' Ramos-Cosme has managed to avoid a newspaper interview. He has been a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, diligently working to keep local children safe and to make families more self-sufficient.

The media covers only the bad news about DCF, he says. He preferred to avoid the often harsh limelight.

But his new job title - he was named operations program administrator in late May - brings with it a more prominent public role. He's now the top DCF official in Citrus County, which is how Ramos-Cosme finally lands in front of a reporter for his very first interview.

He had only positive information to share.

"We're doing very well,'' he said Friday. "We're top performers in the district and the state. No news is good news in a way.''

This coming from a man who knows there actually is a lot happening each day under his watch - numerous efforts devoted to helping some of the county's most vulnerable citizens. The current case load includes 33 foster families with 45 children, 30 families with 64 children under protective services supervision and, in July, 98 protective investigation reports involving 137 children.

In addition, each staff member in the economic self-sufficiency program handles about 250 cases at a time, Ramos-Cosme said.

It's a heavy burden to carry, but one Ramos-Cosme has been overseeing ably for some time now, according to his bosses. He served nine months as acting operations program administrator before outgoing District 13 district administrator Beth Englander named him to the permanent position this spring.

His knowledge of the community and familiarity with the Citrus staff made Ramos-Cosme the obvious choice for the role, said Bill D'Aiuto, district manager for operations in District 13.

"He is a very effective manager,'' D'Aiuto said. "He's respected by the staff.''

Ramos-Cosme has long been among them, and refers to his colleagues as "my extended family.'' Since 1990 he has been working his way through the ranks of Citrus' DCF operations, beginning as a food stamps worker before moving into supervisory roles.

The career path seems a far cry from his days as a mechanical engineering major in Puerto Rico, where he was born and raised. He followed his parents to Citrus Springs after they bought a house they had found in an advertisement, and he opened a pizzeria in Sumter County.

Then along came the DCF job opening. Ramos-Cosme knew he loved working with people, but he had little idea his time determining food stamp eligibility would turn into a lasting career.

"It's hard to believe,'' he said. "Time flies.''

These days, he not only oversees the economic self-sufficiency unit, which helps enroll people in Medicaid, food stamps and cash assistance, but also the family safety division. This includes foster care, adoptions and protective services for child abuse and neglect cases, though not for long.

The process to transfer these services to privatized care is well under way, Ramos-Cosme said. Kids Central Inc., a consortium of social services providers, was chosen last spring to take over the child welfare services under a contract that will be administered by DCF.

On the local level, Ramos-Cosme is helping share what this new structure will look like and how it will operate. His main goal, he said, will be to ensure a smooth transition of services for local residents.

"There should be no interruption of benefits or services,'' Ramos-Cosme said.

When the switch is made, which should be early next year, the county should be in good shape. A major push across District 13, which includes Citrus, Hernando, Marion, Lake and Sumter, has been to reduce the backlog in investigations of child abuse and neglect complaints.

As of April 30, there were 51 backlogged reports in Citrus. On Friday, Ramos-Cosme said only four existed.

Add that to a full staff with a strong retention rate, plus a consistent record of meeting district performance standards, and it's no surprise Ramos-Cosme gushes about the work his employees do.

"We work very hard,'' he said. "It's not something that comes easily. I'm doing my part to make sure as a district we are where we need to be.''

That means being a hands-on manager who attended five meetings by the time he made it to his 10:30 a.m. interview Friday. It involves participating actively in the community; he is a board member for the Citrus County Schools Readiness Coalition and the Affordable Housing Advisory Coalition.

It also entails working tirelessly to improve the services offered by his agency. He's trying to recruit more foster homes and strengthen the relationships he has established in the community.

But to Ramos-Cosme, a dedicated family man with many framed photos of his wife, Dolores, and son, Alexander, 6, lining his desk, a new job title has simply meant business as usual in a county he loves.

"I've been so intensely involved in what's happening here,'' he said. "I just want to continue that.''

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