Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Mike Carroll today took action to establish specialized oversight of Eckerd Connects, the community-based care, lead agency in Hillsborough County. Child welfare policy and financial experts will be placed on-site to improve child welfare practices, organizational administration, and financial management. In March, Secretary Carroll deployed a team to conduct a comprehensive review of the Hillsborough County child welfare system of care. Today’s actions are a direct result of the preliminary findings by this team.
“We are taking immediate action to address significant issues that have been identified by the review team that has conducted an extensive examination of the local system of care,” said Secretary Carroll. “We have zero tolerance for any management or practices that could result in anything less than excellent care for the children and families we serve. These initial actions will ensure that no time is wasted in correcting deficiencies that must be immediately remedied.”
The review team’s immediate recommendations include bringing a child welfare subject matter expert to work toward systemic stabilization of placements and streamlining the placement process. The preliminary recommendations include 10 directives that address specific issues, such as case management caseload, behavioral health services, and placement availability and stability.
Based on these recommendations, DCF has deployed a nationally-recognized child welfare consultant, Dr. Joyce Taylor, to work directly with Eckerd Connects, on-site, to provide guidance to strengthen their practices and policies. Dr. Taylor is affiliated with Yale University’s Program on Supervision, was formerly the Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, and has assisted other community-based care lead agencies in Florida.
DCF has assigned a financial consultant, Melissa Jaacks, to work directly with Eckerd Connects to review all finances to identify administrative cost savings and develop a sound financial viability plan to avoid future operating deficits. Ms. Jaacks is a certified public accountant, previously served as the assistant secretary for administration at DCF in Florida and the chief of staff of the federal Administration for Children and Families. She also provides financial consulting services for a variety of child welfare agencies.
The review team, which includes independent child welfare experts and department leadership, will provide the department a full report following the conclusion of all activities, including the DCF Inspector General’s management review of placement data and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Child Protective Investigations Division’s child protective investigation related to inappropriate supervision. Following the release of the team’s report, the department will hold a community meeting where the review team will share findings and recommendations with the community.