A Florida nonprofit recently awarded a four-year grant for family preservation services in Kansas has been under intense scrutiny in its home state.
Eckerd Connects, which administers foster care in the Tampa Bay area, will serve much of Kansas starting next year. The announcement was made earlier this month by the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
But the Kansas City Star reports that Eckerd has been plagued by problems such as foster children roaming unsupervised while skipping school, young people staying in different homes night after night, even children dying of abuse or neglect.
Eckerd said it already provides some services in Kansas through a partnership with the Department of Corrections. It said states across the country are facing similar challenges with placing foster care children.
Still, the state of Florida warned Eckerd in June that if it didn’t come up with a corrective plan, and stick to it, the agency could lose its $77 million annual contract.
“How did that happen? Who awarded those grants?” asked Rep. Jarrod Ousley, D-Merriam. “As a state, we’re going to hire a company with the exact same headlines we’re trying to get away from? I thought we were trying to be better?”
Lori Ross, a long-time child advocate in Kansas and Missouri, said it’s “deeply disturbing” that work involving the safety and care of Kansas children has been placed with an agency with a “known, prevalent history of inadequate care” for them.
“I mean, a Google search is all that you needed to do,” Ross said.
A spokeswoman for Department for Children and Families Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel told the Star in an email that the agency and the secretary “are aware of the challenges Eckerd Connects is facing with their foster care contract in Florida.” The agency said Eckerd wasn’t awarded the grant for foster care, but for family preservation.
Eckerd Connects was founded in 1968 by late philanthropists Jack and Ruth Eckerd. Programs now include foster care, adoption, work force development, aid for the homeless and transitional services for troubled youth.
Eckerd will provide family preservation services in the state’s east, west and Wichita regions. Another company, Cornerstones of Care, will handle the Kansas City region.
The Kansas budget for family preservation services is about $10 million. The state has not said how much of that will go to Eckerd.
Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer has said the new system “will serve as the foundation for enacting true reform in Kansas child welfare.”