You Paid For It: $73 million for Hillsborough foster care not enough to cure violence

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HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Last weekend there was quite a dust-up inside a large, vintage home in Tampa. Two kids and an adult went to the hospital, and later, one of those kids ended up in mental health care after she voiced suicidal thoughts on the way to jail.

Nothing too remarkable about that, except the home is a “safe house” for foster kids and part of a $73 million foster care program that You Pay Eckerd Family Alternatives to manage.

Eckerd spokeswoman Adrienne Drew insisted she could release few details about the matter due to the privacy rights of the foster children.

“The case is under investigation and we cannot comment any further,” Drew wrote in a statement sent to 8 on Your Side.

Our own investigation uncovered 136 Tampa police reports involving the same “safe house” so far this year. Not exactly encouraging, considering the millions in support that taxpayers pour into Hillsborough’s foster care system for the protection of foster kids.

The employee turnover rate for Eckerd counselors is 63% over the past 12 months and caseloads are daunting. The average case load is 21 per case worker, the median is 24, and 50 of the Eckerd caseworkers struggle with 26 or more kids on their list.

Last summer, an 8 on Your Side Investigation revealed that Eckerd had housed 43 foster kids in corporate offices over a year-long period due to a shortage of foster care homes in Hillsborough County and the inability of that private social services agency to find proper placements.Related: Smeared Feces, Fire on Desk: Former case manager describes behavior of foster kids who had to sleep in offices

Eckerd now insists that its Tampa “safe house,” which it also calls a “teen center,” is simply a way station that serves as an emergency stop between the removal of kids from their homes and before Eckerd can place them in foster homes.

The agency tells us that foster kids do not sleep in the home, even though they are sometimes taken there in the middle of the night, which is precisely what happened early Saturday morning when the fight broke out between female foster kids.

As for last weekend’s fracas, Eckerd remains stingy with details, but Drew did offer up a scorecard of how it all ended for the foster kids in her agency’s care.

“One case manager was injured and a teenager was arrested,” Drew wrote. “Two refused placement and a fourth teenager was placed.”

Bottom line, on that night, one out of five foster kids ended up sleeping in a foster home your $73 million helped pay for.

Records show the executives who run Eckerd Family Alternatives and provide foster care services for taxpayers fare far better. Six top managers earned well over $200,000 a year, according to financial records filed in 2015 with the IRS. Eckerd’s CEO David Dennis took home $708,000, including $200,000 in bonus pay.

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