Media Statement: Eckerd Connects on child welfare contracts in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties

The Eckerd Connects Board of Directors decided on October 26, 2021, after a thorough assessment of current state funding levels and the growing needs of children in the three counties, to discontinue operating either of its two contracts with the Florida Department of Children and Families to provide child welfare services in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. Today the Department of Children and Families informed Eckerd Connects of its intent to transition the Pasco and Pinellas contract in the next 60 days to a new provider.

“Our focus in this region and throughout the State of Florida has always been on what is best for children and families. We have repeatedly expressed concerns to state officials and legislators about the mismatch between inadequate funding levels and the growing needs in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. We regret that it has come to this, but we simply cannot continue under the current circumstances,” Board Chair V. Raymond Ferrara said.

Both the Hillsborough and Pinellas-Pasco child welfare contracts are woefully under-funded, despite Eckerd’s best efforts to increase financial resources available to serve youths and families in Tampa Bay. As a comparison, Hillsborough County serves nearly 1,500 children more than Miami-Dade but receives $20.3 million less in state funding. Pinellas and Pasco counties serve 1,745 more children than Miami-Dade and receive $27.4 million less in state funding.

In the past two years, Eckerd Connects’ has experienced a 40 percent increase in the influx of children being removed from their homes by law enforcement in the three counties, without the necessary increase in funding to properly serve them.

In 2016, the Eckerd Connects Board Chair warned DCF that funding for services in Pinellas and Pasco Counties would be short of the needs of children and families in that fiscal year. Again in 2018, another letter from the Eckerd Connects Board Chair to the state agency sounded the alarm about insufficient funding in all three counties, concluding that “the extreme underfunding in Tampa Bay” is “causing tragic consequences for children and families.”

Eckerd Connects values its long partnership with the state of Florida and remains committed to serving children in need in the region until its contracts end. It will work closely with the Department of Children and Families to help ensure a seamless transition to a new social services provider. The company’s decision to exit the three counties will not impact its work in any other parts of Florida or its other 20 states of service. Eckerd Connects will continue to be a strong advocate for children and families across the nation.