Child advocates call for action after 8 On Your Side exposes Hillsborough foster care failures

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – One of Florida’s leading child advocates called for the reform of Hillsborough County’s foster care system on Friday after watching the results of our 8 On Your Side investigation.

In a call to action released Friday, the Children’s Campaign insists DCF “must conduct a full and independent investigation,” followed by possible fines or other punitive measures.

Our month long investigation revealed that Youth and Family Alternatives (YFA), Hillsborough County’s largest provider of foster care, was keeping kids in cars at a Wawa gas station on Waters Avenue day after day for hours on end because they didn’t have acceptable foster home placements for those kids.

Related: Child Advocates Call for Meaningful Reforms to Fix Hillsborough County

Over three consecutive weeks, we saw the same foster teen spending her days and part of three nights sitting in case workers’ cars instead of going to school, attending therapeutic programs or going to a foster home. That girl eventually ended up going to three different destinations during the three days we observed her sitting in the gas station parking lot.

Eckerd Connects, which pays YFA nearly $10 million a year to provide foster care in Hillsborough, terminated the YFA contract effective in May.

Eckerd is now conducting an emergency search for another private agency to provide foster care to more than 1700 foster kids in Hillsborough.Two other agencies handle about 2300 other Hillsborough foster kids the Hillsborough system.

The Children’s Campaign says Eckerd should not have been so quick to fire YFA.

“Terminating contracts creates huge upheavals to the children served, employees and service networks and does nothing to solve the underlying placement and treatment problems,” the Children’s Campaign President Roy Miller said. “It may also give the appearance of a solution without appropriate research and analysis being finalized.”

The Children’s Campaign says the board of directors for Eckerd and YFA should be held accountable for what 8 On Your Side uncovered and should convene a public meeting to discuss “foster care shortages and the role of group homes.”

After another one of our stories aired Friday, The Florida Department of Children and Families’ Secretary Mike Carroll issued the following statement:

The recent actions taken by a subcontractor of Eckerd Connects are 100 percent unacceptable and do not meet our high standards for how we care for children in Florida. Once we learned of this behavior, we took swift action. DCF has required Eckerd Connects to make immediate changes; and in working with Eckerd Connects, DCF strongly recommended termination of the contract to immediately address this issue. DCF will be launching a comprehensive review in the coming days. The details of which will be available soon. We will not stop till we get to the bottom of what went wrong and what changes need to be made to make sure this never happens again.”

Thursday, Governor Rick Scott said he’s troubled by our findings and insisted “DCF will hold people accountable.”

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