LARGO, Fla. (WFLA) – Night to night placements within Eckerd Connects involved a choice between questionable foster homes and a floor in a Largo office, according to a teenager who has been in the bay area child welfare system since 2013.
“Scary options,” David Denorcy recalled. “I was just nervous and scared. I don’t know where they’re going to put me.”
Friday was the deadline to file applications with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to take over for Eckerd Connects in Pinellas and Pasco Counties.
The non-profit’s contract in that area expires on December 31 and a DCF spokesperson has said the new agency is expected to take over on Jan. 1, exactly 50 days weeks away.
Denorcy, 17, who currently lives with his mother and grandmother in Clearwater, said he has been in Eckerd’s care off and on since he was about 10.
“I slept in the office several times,” Denorcy said. “I had to scrunch up underneath the desk where the computers are, under the wires. I put a blanket down over everything and I slept there. No mattress. Not even a cot.”
Eckerd Connects is now under investigation by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office with part of the focus the conditions and alleged lack of supervision when children slept in offices.
Eckerd officials have said they do not believe any laws were violated and they plan to defend themselves against any allegations.
Denorcy and his mother said many foster homes also have issues, and Denorcy claims there was an altercation with an Eckerd employee when he questioned a placement several months ago.
“I was defiant. I don’t want to go to this place. There’s bedbugs,” Denorcy recalled. “I don’t want to get bit up all night.”
Denorcy said at that point the Eckerd employee punched him, leaving a mark on the bridge of his nose and swelling on his face.
Eckerd spokesperson Ron Bartlett said there is no record of a child being struck in the time frame Denorcy recalled.
“Striking a child would be a blatant violation of our policy that would result in immediate termination and a referral to law enforcement,” Bartlett said.
This 17-year-old and his mother, who is trying to regain custody in court, insist none of Eckerd’s options have been better than his family’s home.
“I got a bed in there,” Denorcy said, pointing to the home. “I got food, clothes, everything that I need and they’re going to take me from there and put me in a place that’s not good? I’d rather be home.”
Eckerd Connects’ contract in Hillsborough County expires next June. The agency has said it plans to let the contract expire.
Eckerd was paid $80 million last year to care for about 6500 bay area children.