Don’t rush the decision to replace Eckerd Connects | Column

Florida’s vulnerable children deserve better than a rush job, writes a children’s advocate.

Eckerd Connects Community Alternatives, the agency that runs foster care in Pinellas and Pasco counties, will soon be replaced.
Eckerd Connects Community Alternatives, the agency that runs foster care in Pinellas and Pasco counties, will soon be replaced. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Whoa! The Florida Department of Children and Families needs to slow down. The rush to select a contractor to replace Eckerd Connects may make the child welfare crisis in Pinellas and Pasco counties worse, not better. DCF must give the community enough time and information to evaluate the applicants and give real input. Children deserve a careful and thoughtful process.

DCF is on the path to a quick announcement for a replacement contractor, a process that may have taken only days instead of the many months that a regular selection process takes. The normal process is competitively procured in an open and transparent process. The applicants and submissions are public record. Independent evaluators review and score applications and those scores are made public. That is not happening here. The children deserve better.

In contrast, DCF has conducted this search in the dark. One week after receiving applications, DCF continues to refuse to provide public records. It held a “public” meeting where only certain people were invited to meet the applicants. DCF did not issue a public notice of that meeting and media was kept out of the building.

Despite DCF’s refusal to provide public records, the names of applicants have leaked out. The top contenders are agencies that hold contracts in other parts of the state. DCF publishes a lot of information about agency performance on its website and on the USF Center for Child Welfare website. This data shows the strengths and weaknesses of the agencies.

People in Pinellas and Pasco should have the opportunity to look at the data and question the applicants. They should have the ability to consider what values they want the provider to promote. The process doesn’t need to take nine months — but the health, safety and well-being of children is surely worth more than nine days of consideration.

Everyone wants DCF to get this decision right. They must take the time to make a real decision and not hop out of the frying pan and into the fire. Children’s safety and wellbeing are at risk.


Christina Spudeas is the executive director of Florida’s Children First. Contact her at





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Alexia Nechayev

FYS Events & Meeting Chair
(Palm Beach)

Hello, My name is Alexia Nechayev. I am 25 years old and I am an alumna of Florida International University where I received my B.A. in Psychology. My future career goal is to be a Lawyer. I was in care for about one year from age 17 to 18. Prior to entering care, I only knew about the negative stigma regarding foster care and while in care that narrative was unfortunately my experience.

In school I felt like I was on display because my status in care was broadcast to other students and in my placement behavior was leveraged for “privileges” that should be a natural right of all children. Because I did not know my rights I did not know that what I was experiencing was wrong. Today this is exactly why I advocate, because I don’t want this to be the same for other youth who are experiencing foster care.

This is my second year on the FYS Statewide Board and I’m happy to be the Events and Meetings Chair this year because my main goal through advocacy is to reach as many people as possible. My favorite thing as a board member is to see how comfortable members become while working together. The community needs to know that youth in foster care are real people, going through some of the hardest moments of their life and youth need to know that their voice is powerful. I believe that we have to speak up and bring these issues to people’s attention so that they do not forget us. Advocacy, education and consistency is the only way.

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