ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Florida Department of Children and Families is beginning an emergency bidding process to find another foster agency to pick up responsibilities in Pinellas and Pasco Counties.
A representative with DCF confirmed the process was getting underway to 10 Tampa Bay reporter Liz Crawford. Agencies have until Friday to be considered.
Word of the bidding process comes just days after the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office announced it had launched a criminal investigation into allegations of child abuse and neglect involving kids under the care of Eckerd Connects Community Alternatives.
"The conditions in which these children have been living at Eckerd’s offices, frankly, is disgusting and deplorable," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said last week, adding that the conditions kids are in at the office are just as bad or worse than the homes they were removed from.
Eckerd Connects has been the Tampa Bay region's lead agency for child welfare and foster care services. But, the agency's contracts for Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties will be terminated once they expire.
In Hillsborough County, the contract ends June 30, 2022, so there's some time to figure out next steps. Pasco and Pinellas will see a swifter exit by Eckerd in December 2021, making the search process urgent.
Eckerd has maintained it was discontinuing services because it was not getting sufficient funding from DCF. However, DCF said "repeated failures" by Eckerd were the reason the contracts were being terminated.
The state says it expects Eckerd to transfer relevant files and data during the transition process to the new provider.
For its part, Eckerd Connects recently released a statement, saying it takes "extremely seriously" the criminal investigation by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
"Eckerd will provide its full cooperation to the sheriff’s office in its investigation," the agency wrote previously. "Eckerd Connects’ mission is to support the health and wellbeing of children and families in need in the Tampa Bay area, and we will not tolerate any acts of neglect or abuse by any of our staff or subcontracted agencies.”