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Eckerd Kids shuts down troubled out-of-hours teen center

Published May 10, 2017

TAMPA — The agency that runs child welfare in Hillsborough County is closing a troubled out-of-hours teen center.

Eckerd Kids announced Wednesday that it will terminate its contract with subcontractor Camelot Community Care to run the Ybor Heights center, which is used to temporarily house and supervise children entering the foster care system until they are placed with foster parents or in a group home.

Eckerd officials declined to state why they were unhappy with Camelot's performance. Efforts last month to find another provider were unsuccessful. No firm other than Camelot bid for the job.

"Eckerd Kids has made numerous attempts to improve the performance of Camelot's Teen Center," said spokeswoman Adrienne Drew, in a statement. "We believe this move will provide the best environment for our foster children, which is our number one goal."

The Tampa Police Department has responded to 13 disturbance calls and 57 runaway reports at the center this year, records show. Last weekend, a case manager was injured and a teenager was arrested, Eckerd said.

In addition to supervision, Eckerd's $500,000 contract with Camelot covers the transportation of foster children to and from school and day care centers.

In January, a Camelot driver mistakenly dropped a 4-year-old foster girl at the wrong home in Tampa. The contract for transportation has also been put out for bid.

Concerns about the center were raised at a regular meeting of child welfare stakeholders held this week at the Children's Board of Hillsborough County.

Children are allowed to stay for up to four hours at the center outside of regular working hours until they are placed. But in some cases children ended up there longer because they did not want to go to certain foster or group homes.

"There are a variety of reasons children won't go to some places," said Robin Rosenberg, deputy director of Florida's Children First, a statewide advocacy organization focused on children's rights. "They may not feel safe or the place is not respectful to them."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.