Thursday, February 22, 2018
Public safety

Replace Hillsborough Kids Inc. with Eckerd Youth Alternatives, panel urges

TAMPA — Hillsborough Kids Inc. has lost its leader and, as of Tuesday, is closer to losing its $65.5 million-a-year state contract.

An advisory panel voted to put competing Eckerd Youth Alternatives in charge of protecting Hillsborough County's most vulnerable children. Eckerd already plays a parallel role in Pinellas and Pasco counties.

HKI's current contract expires at the end of June. The decision, expected by Jan. 13, will rest with David Wilkins, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Mike Carroll, chief of DCF's 11-county Suncoast region, said the unanimous vote of the advisory committee, made up of DCF officials and local children's activists, "will carry great weight" in Wilkins' decision.

HKI has been under scrutiny because of its safety record. In two years, eight children died under its watch. Seven were victims of previous abuse, neglect or abandonment.

DCF said no other agency in Florida had as many deaths.

"The vote was clearly a call for improved performance," Carroll said. "It was not totally related to the eight deaths over two years. It was broader than that."

The vote came days after HKI staff learned that CEO Jeff Rainey is ending his career with the agency. He will leave Hillsborough Kids within two to three months.

Rainey helped start HKI in 2001, when Florida began outsourcing children's protective services. It won the state contract in 2002, and Rainey became its CEO in 2005.

"I believe that leaving now is the natural progression of my leadership term," Rainey said in an earlier email. "It is just the right time."

After the vote, Rainey and HKI's chairwoman Mindy Murphy said they were surprised by the lopsided expression of no confidence. But they said HKI would have gladly sacrificed its contract if it could have saved even one of the dead children.

"Child welfare in this community is complicated," Rainey said. "There are no easy answers."

If DCF's secretary accepts Tuesday's recommendation, Murphy said HKI "will begin a six-month process toward dismantlement." The agency has about 115 employees. It also oversees six subcontractors, including the Children's Home Society and Mental Health Care Inc.

HKI has pressured subcontractors to improve monitoring of high-risk families, but tragedy struck one child after another.

Last year, two child deaths caused Hillsborough Kids to take action against Mental Health Care and the Children's Home Society.

Mental Health Care was found at fault in its monitoring of Ezekiel Mathis, a 1-year-old killed in May. Three workers apparently were unaware that a boyfriend they found living in the home had been barred by a judge. The boyfriend is charged with his murder. After the tragedy, MHC's $2.4 million contract was cut by $250,000.

Children's Home Society was cited for missing dangers 16-month-old Ronderique Anderson faced when he was taken from his mother and put in the care of his father. The father is charged with beating the baby to death in February. Children's Home Society, which is paid $5.1 million annually, was stripped of half its caseload.

The subcontractors will continue to provide services at least for now, DCF's Carroll said. If Eckerd takes over, he said, it will decide any changes.

Panel members said they were impressed with improvements HKI has made, including more training for frontline workers and their supervisors and new software that flags high-risk cases. But they said the changes should have been made sooner.

Panel member Jan Gregory, DCF's regional deputy director, was in tears as she voted. She works just a parking lot away from HKI's giant headquarters on Florida Avenue.

"I know it's hard," she told HKI workers in the audience.

"But it's time for a change."

Comments
Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students were arrested Wednesday on charges that they made threats against their respective schools, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The threats were not credible and neither took steps to carry out those threats, deput...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Former Florida Rep. Robert Wallace jumps from Tampa overpass

Former Florida Rep. Robert Wallace jumps from Tampa overpass

TAMPA — Former Florida state Rep. Robert Wallace ended his life Monday night by jumping from a Dale Mabry Highway overpass, records show. He was 65.At least one witness saw Wallace plunge 40 to 50 feet onto Gunn Highway, according to a Hillsborough C...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students were arrested Wednesday on charges that they made threats against their respective schools, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The threats were not credible and neither took steps to carry out those threats, deput...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Man arrested after 3-year-old girl in his care found wandering streets

Man arrested after 3-year-old girl in his care found wandering streets

PORT RICHEY — A 59-year-old man was arrested Tuesday evening after a 3-year-old girl in his care was found wandering outside alone, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said they were sent to Larry Dixon’s residence at 8710 Bench D...
Published: 02/21/18
Largo police investigating fatal hit-and-run crash on East Bay Drive

Largo police investigating fatal hit-and-run crash on East Bay Drive

LARGO — Police have identified the pedestrian in a fatal hit-and-run Wednesday morning.According to Largo police, 75-year-old John William English Jr. was struck and killed by a car about 6 a.m. at Wertz Drive. The crash shut down the eastbound lanes...
Published: 02/21/18
Parents of Seminole Heights killings suspect processed at jail for house arrest

Parents of Seminole Heights killings suspect processed at jail for house arrest

TAMPA — The parents of a man accused in last year’s Seminole Heights killings reported to a Hillsborough County jail Wednesday morning to be outfitted with the GPS monitors they’ll wear during their six months of house arrest.Rosita Donaldson was boo...
Published: 02/21/18
Police: Teen, 17, shoots Pinellas Park man who confronted him after car break-in

Police: Teen, 17, shoots Pinellas Park man who confronted him after car break-in

PINELLAS PARK — A Pinellas Park teen faces a charge of attempted murder after police say he stole a gun from an unlocked vehicle and shot the owner as he tried to give chase.Police say Brandon Paul Roman, 17, faces charges including attempted murder,...
Published: 02/21/18
Pedestrian killed by hit-and-run driver in Tampa

Pedestrian killed by hit-and-run driver in Tampa

TAMPA — A pedestrian was fatally struck by a hit-and-run vehicle early Wednesday morning.Police say the pedestrian died at the scene after being struck in the 6900 block of E Adamo Drive.Eastbound lanes are closed at S Maydell Drive, according to the...
Published: 02/21/18
Her brother was a Hillsborough firefighter. Then he overdosed. What she hopes you learn from her hero.

Her brother was a Hillsborough firefighter. Then he overdosed. What she hopes you learn from her hero.

Editor’s note: This essay was written for the Tampa Bay Times by Dina Perez, the sister of Nick Perez, a Hillsborough County Fire Rescue employee who died in 2016 at age 27.You see firefighters and first responders on TV and they look like superheroe...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/21/18
Fingerprint on Gatorade bottle leads to arrest of man, 23, in sexual assault of 71-year-old woman

Fingerprint on Gatorade bottle leads to arrest of man, 23, in sexual assault of 71-year-old woman

NEW PORT RICHEY — The 23-year-old man wanted in connection with sexually assaulting a 71-year-old woman on Monday left behind the clue that deputies said led them right to him: A fingerprint on a Gatorade bottle.Deputies said that and other evidence ...
Published: 02/20/18