DCF forms statewide panel to analyze foster care failures exposed by 8 On Your Side investigation

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — DCF Secretary Mike Carroll has formed a blue ribbon panel of experts to review foster care failures in Hillsborough County that we first exposed a week ago in our 8 On Your Side investigation.

I really want to know why it happened and so to get to the issue of why, I need to put folks on the ground there to do a much better review of that Circuit (Tampa),” Carroll said on Monday. “Quite frankly, to know how we keep ending up here.”

In an interview Monday from Tallahassee, Carroll made repeated references to our 8 On Your Side investigation that uncovered foster teens spending day after day crammed into the cars of caseworkers at a Wawa gas station on Waters Avenue instead of spending their time in school, therapy or a foster home.

Eckerd, which hired Youth and Family Alternatives (YFA) to perform foster care services for 1700 children with nearly $10 million a year of your tax dollars, has also claimed YFA was turning foster kids loose in the community with bus passes on a daily basis –  because there was no other place for them to go.

“You referenced some of it in your story about how some of them have different placements from night to night. That’s not a good practice either,” Carroll said. “In terms of a practice where you’re routinely bringing kids to a Wawa or they’re not in school or they’re not in placements at night, that’s totally unacceptable.”

It turns out, that part of the investigation wasn’t much of a surprise to child welfare insiders.

“That’s something we knew about, Eckerd knew about it, the folks on the ground knew about it,” Carroll said. “And that’s something I expect one of those systems issues that we work through.”

Carroll says his team of experts will start work this week and includes a number of people from around the state who are in a position to dig deep and determine what’s wrong with foster care in Hillsborough County. It will hold at least two public meetings and interview as many stakeholders as possible.

The panel includes:

  • Lee Kaywork, Retired CEO of Family Support Services of North Florida
  • Linda Jewel Morgan, Senior Director of Strategic Consulting at Casey Family Programs
  • John Cooper, CEO of Kids Central
  • Karen Hill, Division Director of State Attorney in Circuit 6 (Children’s Legal Services)
  • Frank Prado, Director of Operations of Florida Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office
  • Rebecca Kapusta, DCF Assistant Secretary for Operations
  • Patricia Medlock, DCF Northeast Regional Managing Director
  • Traci Leavine, DCF Office of Child Welfare
  • Former Dependency Judge James Seals

Carroll said the DCF Inspector General is also looking into the foster care failures, and last week – at DCF’s urging – Eckerd took action to terminate the YFA contract with 90 days notice and start an emergency search for another provider for more than 1,700 foster kids in Hillsborough.

“Once we learned of this behavior, we took swift action,” Carroll said. “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.”

Carroll says whatever root causes the panel uncovers for the foster failures we exposed, he is the one who bears ultimate responsibility.

“These kids are our kids,” Carroll said.”That responsibility comes right up to me…I don’t accept any of these failures.”

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