TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — What comes next for foster children in the Tampa Bay area now that several counties have cut ties with the company that was hired to provide foster care services throughout Florida?
Eckerd Connects and the Florida Department of Children and Families announced Monday that the company’s contracts with Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties will not be renewed when they expire. The agreements in Pasco and Pinellas are set to expire on Dec. 31. In a statement, DCF said it would not renew those contracts. Eckerd added that it plans on carrying out its contract in Hillsborough County until it expires June 30, 2022.
Now the big question is: who will take care of foster children in the Tampa Bay area?
For years, 8 On Your Side has exposed problems with Eckerd Connects including children sleeping alone in offices, instead of foster homes, and kids spending hours sitting in cars in Wawa parking lots waiting for foster beds.
“Eckerd had been under corrective action plans on both sides of the bay for a long time,” said Robin Rosenberg, the deputy director of Children First.
Community leaders are calling on DCF to revamp the foster care system.
“The hope is that DCF has a plan to come in with strong management and to do a turn around of the system,” Rosenberg said.
The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County oversees some of the funding that Eckerd receives.
“We are really in a crunch, so 60 days will go by quickly,” Executive Director Kelley Parris said.
Parris wants a more community-based approach to help reunite children with their families.
“We need the police departments, sheriff’s departments, [the] school system is such an important player, the domestic violence community, the substance abuse serving community,” she said. “Everybody has got to pull together to come up with some answers to this.”
Parris also believes there needs more accountability.
“This is a heart-wrenching situation for me to watch because when the system damages the kids as much as the abusive family does. How is that America?” Parris said.
8 On Your Side reached out to DCF for comment on this story but the agency has not yet responded.