Eckerd reveals plan to solve Hillsborough foster care crisis

Investigations

Chris Card, the head of Eckerd Connects foster care, revealed a plan Tuesday to fix the Hillsborough foster care crisis we first exposed in an 8 On Your Side investigation in January.

That’s when we found foster kids living in caseworkers’ cars in a Tampa gas station parking lot day and night.

We later discovered kids sleeping in child welfare offices.

Card told the Eckerd board that oversees foster care in Hillsborough County that the office problem is ongoing.

“We’re continuing to make progress,” Card said. “But we still have had some occasions where kids have had to spend the night in the office.”

Card is under pressure from DCF to finalize a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) by July 15 or risk losing Eckerd’s $77 million state contract for child welfare. A draft of that CAP is due June 30.

Tuesday, Card outlined an action plan that among other things includes:

  • 24/7 mental health resources for kids in crisis
  • New computer software that helps match kids with foster homes
  • A surge in the recruitment and training of case workers and foster parents
  • Better teamwork and collaboration with other agencies in the child welfare system
  • A focus on keeping kids in their own homes instead of placing then in foster care
  • Cost-cutting of less effective programs and the administrative budget of Eckerd
  • Involving foster kids in decision-making about their placements for better outcomes
  • The creation of more group homes to house hard to manage foster teens
  • Expansion of the Eckerd boards that oversee foster care to include stakeholders and community representatives

Card’s outline of new initiatives won approval of the Hillsborough Eckerd board and the child welfare expert from Yale that DCF has implanted in Eckerd to help resolve the foster care crisis.

“I would give them an A- because they’ve had a history of having trouble with follow through so I’m worried about that,” said Yale professor Joyce Taylor. “But the plan does bring in pieces of how they’ll follow through.”

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