Hillsborough County foster families frustrated by difficulties with new aid agencies

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Foster families said they had hoped and prayed for change with Hillsborough’s Children’s Network after the state recently terminated a long-term contract with a troubled foster care provider, Eckerd Connects.

Now families have more problems with the new provider.

Eckerd Connects left foster care in Hillsborough County in a bad state, leading the Children’s Network to take over nearly 3,000 foster children in July.

When 8 On Your Side crews arrived at the address listed by the Children’s Network, they weren’t there, so we went looking for answers.

Five-month-old Maddie has been in foster care all her life.

“If you take them away from their families, they come from neglect and abuse; our responsibility as foster families and of the state is to take care of these kids and make sure their needs are met, everything, it’s not just about money,” said Stacy Thompson.

Thompson is a foster mother to Maddie and three other children through the Children’s Network.

“I prayed we’d be better with this new agency, but it’s not,” Thompson said.

The Florida Department of Children and Families chose the Children’s Network in July to acquire it from Eckerd Connects. Eckerd faced investigations and complaints about the treatment of children in their care.

“Lack of communication, still no one answer[s] the phones for us, no one answers[s] the calls, the payment, we were supposed to get a clothing voucher, nobody knows what’s going on,” Thompson said.

In a note from Nadereh Salim, the general manager of the Children’s Network, the network would send out checks to foster families in the first week of August, prior to the school year. The families should have received $300 in clothing allowance per child and $200 to help pay for childcare and their monthly allowance. Thompson said she hasn’t seen any of that money.

“We fight for that every day. Ultimately, it should be the state that helps us fight for these children,” Thompson said.

The Children’s Network sent WFLA this statement:

Our efforts to ensure a seamless transition as we became the community-based healthcare organization for Hillsborough County (Circuit 13) began even before the start of our contract on July 1, 2022. Multiple communications were sent to foster parents and others receiving monthly payouts from Eckerd Connects, the previous headquarters, to verify their payment details.

However, we were unable to obtain Eckerd’s database of electronic payment information, which meant that some foster parents who would normally receive an electronic payment received checks in the mail instead. Checks for August payments were sent on August 1, 2022 and, where possible, electronic payments were sent on August 4. Children’s Network of Hillsborough has received some reports from parents who have not received checks, and our team is working quickly to ensure all records are updated and payments are made.

We apologize for the inconvenience to those who have not yet received their payment, and we hope to build a strong relationship with them in the future. Children’s Network of Hillsborough is continuously monitoring the situation and working to successfully resolve it.

The children’s network

Anyone with a question or concern about payment is requested to contact us at (656) 400-2600 or [email protected]

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