TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – An unlicensed foster care facility has been shut down following an 8 On Your Side investigation. There are now concerns about the oversight from Florida’s Department of Children and Families.
The facility in question was located in a two-story home in Seminole Heights. Back in July, 8 On Your Side exposed how troubled foster kids with nowhere else to go during the day were staying at the house.
The facility was run by Grace of Hope. They are a subcontractor of Eckerd Connects, one of the largest private companies hired by the state to oversee foster kids.
“I think there’s just a total lack of oversight and nobody knows what is happening there,” said Susan Ladika.
Neighbors, including Ladika, were alarmed after seeing lots of police activity and children allegedly screaming outside of the house.
8 On Your Side decided to investigate whether the facility was approved to operate out of the home. We got our answer: It was not.
“Since Friday, have you seen any children?” asked investigate reporter Mahsa Saeidi.
“No but I’m not looking out my window 24/7,” said Ladika.
Dr. Chris Card has overseen foster care programs in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties for Eckerd Connects since the spring of 2018. He’s in charge of approximately seven thousand children.
In July, Dr. Card told 8 On Your Side he didn’t believe a license was required for Grace of Hope to operate out of the home.
“This was a new non-profit that hadn’t gotten a license yet and so that created a unique situation for us,” said Dr. Card.
Most of the organizations Eckerd deals with already have a license.
For six weeks, 8 On Your Side Investigates tried to confirm the licensing requirements with DCF since they are in charge of oversight.
Finally, a spokeswoman told us on Friday that a license was in fact required.
We’ve learned DCF met with Eckerd the day after our original report to notify them a license was necessary; however, they didn’t release that information to WFLA for 36 days.
8 On Your Side has put in a request to speak with DCF regarding the oversight of this case.
In the meantime, Dr. Card says the subcontractor’s staff had background checks and training. Right now, they can be with foster kids in a public place, just not in the Seminole Heights home.