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A foster father was accused of sex abuse. Then he got a second chance.

the Florida Department of Children and Families
Eckerd Community Alternatives
Chris Card
the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office
the Zero Abuse Project
the USA TODAY Network
the Florida Department of Law Enforcement
the Child Welfare League of America
the Boy Scouts
the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
Local Advocacy Councils
Directions for Living

Mandi Jo
Mandi Jo’s
Robert Metzner’s
Amelia Franck Meyer
Rita Fleishauer
Henry Danger
Jude Foster
Peter Digre
Amy Russell
Victor Vieth
possible.”Richard Wexler
April Lott
David Parry


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Pinellas Park

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Ann Arbor
Pinellas County Schools
Pinellas Park
Palm Harbor

the Great Recession

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The first molestation allegation had surfaced a year earlier, regarding an 8-year-old foster boy.The second had been reported in April – regarding her son Danny.It was a staggering revelation for Mandi Jo, who said she had asked caseworkers why Danny was suddenly removed from Robert Metzner’s foster home earlier that year.“They just told me it turns out he wasn’t approved,” Mandi Jo said.Danny’s story is a case study in how serious allegations against foster parents often go unchecked in Florida, where child welfare officials are pulling record-breaking numbers of kids into the system without enough safe places to put them.The case shows how the Florida Department of Children and Families and one of its largest contractors, Eckerd Community Alternatives, cut corners in screening and investigating Metzner, then hid troubling discoveries from parents.Metzner is charged with 18 counts of child pornography. Chris Card, the chief of community-based care for Eckerd, defended the agency’s decision to license Metzner in an email, stating that the 69-year-old “did not have any disqualifying or concerning issues identified in his background checks.”Card also claimed that Eckerd workers “make sure that parents know of any issues or events that take place involving their child in foster care.”But Mandi Jo, as well as Danny’s stepfather, aunt and three of Danny’s grandparents vehemently denied that any caseworkers or investigators notified them about Metzner’s alleged abuse of Danny, despite being in constant contact with them throughout 2019.That is unacceptable, said Amelia Franck Meyer, a former foster care agency CEO in Minnesota and founder of the nonprofit Alia, which advocates for child welfare reform.“Not only were they not told, they were lied to,” Franck Meyer said. After working nearly three decades as an electrical engineer for a machinery company outside Ann Arbor, the 69-year-old German citizen retired in 2012 and moved to Florida, according to his LinkedIn profile.Morris was one of several nurses who rotated through Metzner’s house 24/7 to care for his adult son with severe disabilities, adopted decades ago while he lived in Michigan.She and Rita Fleishauer, a certified nursing assistant who also worked in the home, said Metzner was cruel and verbally abusive, calling the staff names like “stupid f---ing idiot” over minor errors.The two also worried about Metzner’s attachment to young boys.Fleishauer said Metzner was obsessed with television characters like Henry Danger, a 13-year-old superhero on Nickelodeon, and Jude Foster, a preteen boy on the ABC drama The Fosters who is both gay and adopted.Three years earlier, Pinellas County Schools dropped Metzner as a volunteer "lunch mentor" for two disadvantaged middle school boys after reprimanding him for texting students and having “inappropriate” conversations with them about smoking pot, district records show.And Morris felt strange seeing Metzner climb into bed with his adult son to cuddle him.“You could see the look on the poor guy’s face,” Morris said, of the son. The nurse told police that Metzner was abusive “to all of his caretakers” and that he was getting “more aggressive in speech and demeanor.”Four months later, Eckerd sent Metzner his first foster child, an 8-year-old boy.The 8-year-old had been in foster care for nearly two years and lived in more than two dozen homes, according to placement data analyzed by USA TODAY. “And you found me, so why couldn’t they?”It didn’t take long for concerns to arise over the 8-year-old.Fleishauer said Metzner paid little attention to the boy’s care, feeding him a steady diet of mozzarella sticks and candy.It bothered the nursing assistant that Metzner often had the 8-year-old sit in his lap, and she grew suspicious that he was sleeping in the boy’s bed, which was in a converted sunroom.A week into his stay, after school officials called law enforcement to hospitalize the boy for acting out at school, the child told his mother that Metzner had rubbed his penis in the bathtub, according to police and court records.“He cleaned it for me ... Eckerd decided to take another chance on Metzner.Shortly after DCF’s investigators closed the case, Fleishauer said she overheard Eckerd employees on the phone, reminding the foster father that it was inappropriate to sleep in the same bed as a foster child and asking him to take more training to refresh him on boundaries.Card denied this, stating in an email that Eckerd was not aware of any concerns about Metzner and the boy sleeping in the same bed.Three months later, Eckerd sent Danny.By then, the situation at the agency was worse.In February 2019, Eckerd told state officials that three previous infusions of emergency funding hadn’t been enough to stabilize the agency, which was still projecting a $4.2 million shortfall and surging numbers of foster kids. And it disturbed her that Eckerd had treated Metzner allegedly sleeping in the boy’s bed so casually.Fleischauer also worried that if she made a report but wasn’t believed, she could lose her job – and the ability to keep an eye on the boy and Metzner’s nonverbal son.Then, on April 1, after an argument with Metzner, one of the aides vented in a text to Fleishauer that he had seen the foster father molesting not just Danny but also the previous foster boy.Fleishauer called the hotline.This time, investigators talked to the caretakers, she said. According to the arrest affidavit, a nursing assistant in the home also overheard the first foster child saying “no, no,” while in the bathroom with Metzner.Metzner was arrested in May 2019.But the news didn’t reach Mandi Jo, who was still struggling to finish her case plan with Eckerd and address Danny’s sexual behavior with his younger brother.At an interview at her mother’s house in Palm Harbor, surrounded by boxes of paperwork and walls of old family photos, Mandi Jo buried her face in her hands as a reporter shared details of the allegations against Metzner.

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