You Paid For It: Eckerd Kids promises foster care reform in wake of DCF threat

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Foster care reforms by Eckerd Kids are underway following an 8 on Your Side investigation of a foster teen center in Tampa that revealed recurring violence and almost daily police reports of trouble there.

The teen center –which Eckerd Kids subcontracted to Camelot Community Care at a location we are not disclosing due to security concerns– was the scene of a fistfight two weeks ago that sent two teens and a case worker to the hospital.

Our review of public records disclosed 136 Tampa police reports at that teen center location since January. Last week, Eckerd announced it was terminating its contract with Camelot for after-hours care of foster teens.

Read: Eckerd’s Action Plan

State and federal taxes fund nearly all of the $73 million a year that Eckerd receives for foster care in Hillsborough County through a contract with the Florida Department of Children and Families. Last Wednesday, DCF told Eckerd to “deliver a plan that outlines how Eckerd intends to redefine the function of the teen center and how you will handle those teens who were at this facility after hours.”

Eckerd is a so-called “lead agency” that farms out most of the actually hands-on foster care to other private subcontractors. Eckerd’s President and CEO David Dennis earns $746,000 a year, according to the most recent annual financial report the nonprofit filed with the IRS in June 2016.

DCF threatened to step in with a state-mandated “corrective action plan” and “possible termination of your contract” if Eckerd didn’t submit its own action plan by the end of business Friday. That’s a serious move, according to foster child advocate Robin Rosenberg who works with Florida’s Children First.

“When DCF gets to the point of having to issue a written letter, they have to be stern and frank about what they want,” Rosenberg said.

RELATED- 8 INVESTIGATES: Hillsborough to allow Eckerd foster kids to stay at facility

Late Friday, Eckerd responded by telling DCF that “Eckerd Kids concurs with the departments assessment” of troubles at the teen center and that “Eckerd Kids recognizes that our efforts have not yielded the desired outcome.”

Eckerd told DCF it is taking a number of steps to improve foster care. We reported that foster kids were being kept at the teen center until 11 p.m. on a regular basis, then taken elsewhere to sleep before going to school the following day.

Among other things Eckerd is now promising DCF:

  • The teen center will no longer be utilized for the after-hours supervision of youth in foster care.
  • Eckerd Kids will redirect additional funding to each case management agency to hire additional support staff
  • Eckerd Kids will ensure both foster parents and case managers who have a desire to work with this population (kids with substance abuse, mental health or behavioral concerns) are compensated at a higher rate.

DCF did not have a formal response Monday morning to Eckerd’s new foster care plan. Rosenberg believes it’s a move in the right direction.

“It seems to me that their plan is on the right track,” Rosenberg said. “Because, it is focusing on putting their resources on people who can give the children individual attention.”

RELATED- Children taken from homes because of abuse now sleeping in office buildings

In response to questions by 8 on Your Side, Eckerd spokeswoman Adrienne Drew sent an email Monday suggesting that Eckerd has been paying foster parents the state-mandated “board rate” of $538 a month for foster teens, but as of May 11th, is giving additional compensation to foster parents and service providers who take on hard to place, troubled foster teens under the new plan it sent to DCF on Friday.

Drew did not disclose how much additional money foster parents of those troubled foster teens will receive under Eckerd’s new plan.

“We still need more parents and friends of these kids to step up,” Rosenberg said.

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