Pinellas couple claims Eckerd adoption system fails kids

It’s become a cliché in child welfare that nobody wants to adopt foster teens—too old, too troubled, too much baggage for adoptive parents. But one couple who wants to adopt teens insists that couldn’t be more wrong.

“When they say nobody wants to adopt teenagers, ok, it’s a blatant lie,” says Darcy Hunt, a former police officer, teacher and child protective investigator who began her journey to become an adoptive parent 13 months ago.

But Darcy Hunt and her partner Kelley Hunt, a financial investigator, insist that Eckerd Connects and its subcontracted agencies in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties have done nothing but throw up roadblocks to their own attempts to adopt a teenaged foster child .”We almost threw in the towel a week ago,” Darcy said. “But we just can’t be silent about this—the system’s a mess.”

“I hope that this somehow starts change within Eckerd,” said Kelly. “I hope it starts change with the adoption system. It is so broken.”

During an interview in their Clearwater home last week both women described in detail their  fruitless attempt to work through the private agency system that is supposed to help kids in the state foster care system find adoptive parents and “forever families.”

The women say due to a shortage of  state-required adoption classes they had to  travel to Pasco to receive adoption training and ended up paying close to $1500 for their own private home study when it became clear they’d have to wait another six months for that.

They showed us the study which they passed with flying colors. But last week they learned that Eckerd and its contracted agencies no longer accept private home studies so they now face the prospective of starting the process all over again.

In addition to that, they believe they have been “blackballed” from the system—not for being a gay couple–but for trying to cross county lines in their quest to find the right match from agencies that they say compete with each other for placements rather than working together to find homes for teenage foster kids.

 “There’s been so many walls built and the second we think we break through something and we get a call back and we think we start moving forward we get hit again with something else,” Kelley said.

They claim the first teenager match arranged by Eckerd turned into a total disaster because it was poorly conceived and executed. "We hadn't even had dinner with this girl yet they were already setting up a move-in date," said Darcy. "It was a failure from the beginning."

As a measure of success, Eckerd says there have been 800 adoptions since July 2017—20 percent of them involving teenagers in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough with 56 teenagers currently waiting to find adoptive parents.

But the Hunts say other members of their adoption training class are hitting the same kind of road blocks.

8 On Your Side shared their concerns and observations with Eckerd’s new head of child welfare for the Tampa Bay area, Chris Card. “We called them up and said lets meet and talk,” Card said. “And we’re going to make some adjustments in the process.”

After that Monday meeting Card promised to address some of the Hunts’ concerns. “Some of their experiences they had were unnecessary and we’re going to fix the system so we don’t have those recurring with other adoptive families,” Card said.

“My message would be this isn’t a business,” said Kelley. “It’s functioning like a business, it needs to be about the ids—if you’re so much about the kids, make it bout the kids.”

Tonight at six, hear firsthand what this couple says is wrong with the "business" of adoptions, and what Eckerd says it plans to do to make it easier to find “forever homes” for the teenage foster kids who so desperately want one.

 “If you ask them (teenagers) why do you want to be adopted they’re going to say  ‘I want somebody who cares about me,” said Darcy Hunt. “And you’ve got two people right here.”

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