Jacksonville-based agency appointed to manage host families in Pinellas, Pasco

A Jacksonville-based agency will be managing host families in Pinellas and Pasco starting in the new year.

The Florida Department of Children and Families confirmed on Wednesday that it had selected North Florida Family Support Services as the provider of the five-year, $ 80 million contract after it ended the Clearwater Eckerd Connects nonprofit earlier this month.

“The FSS has been proven to be effective in caring for children in Northeast Florida while providing a strong continuum of services,” said Department Secretary Shevaun Harris. “This is our opportunity to rebuild the health care system in these counties that truly meets the needs of the children and families it serves by engaging the community to take advantage of all available resources. We searched for a qualified lead agency that knew how to activate the community and reach out to partners, and we know that FSS will work diligently to complete this task in Channel 6. ”

Three agencies made presentations to Harris and other ministry officials at a meeting in Largo on November 17 – none were local.

They included Kids Central of Wildwood and Lydia Home, headquartered in Chicago.

The rush to appoint a new agency in Pinellas and Pasco comes after the state announced on November 1 that it would not extend its $ 86 million contract with Eckerd Connects. The department had received reports from Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri that one child had been injured and another overdosed while spending the night in an unlicensed agency office. The nonprofit has come under fire for a handful of high-profile child deaths under its watch and struggled to find long-term placements for the teens who ended up sleeping in offices.

Since Eckerd’s contract expires on December 31, an emergency bidding process was announced on November 5 for a new contract.

Family Support Services of North Florida manages foster families in Duval and Nassau counties. In January, Pinellas and Pasco counties will be added to its service areas, challenging Florida law that a primary foster care agency should not exceed two contiguous court circuits.

This legislation seeks to prohibit the largest agencies from obtaining contracts in most of the state.

Some child protection experts said they feared the decision was made without sufficient verification time.

“We are very disappointed that the DCF did not take more time to seek the advice of the community before making this decision,” said Robin Rosenberg, deputy director of the children’s advocacy group Florida’s Children First. “The concept is that the lead agency should work closely with partners in their community to develop solutions for children, families.”

Rosenberg said the Jacksonville base of the Family Support Service could be a challenge in providing quality community care in Pinellas and Pasco.

The agency has a low turnover of social workers and a reasonable workload, she said, but doesn’t know how that will turn out as it inherits an unstable system in Pinellas and Pasco.

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“We’ve been successful in part because of our ability to mobilize available resources in the community and build lasting relationships,” FSS President and CEO Jenn Petion said in a statement.

The agency is looking to continue this work in Pasco and Pinellas counties, Petion said.

“We can achieve this by putting in place a strong local leadership team that will work to implement a family preservation model that we know from experience can reduce the number of children in care. by the state. “

The Healthy St. Petersburg Foundation provides partial funding for Tampa Bay Times articles on equity. He does not select the story subjects and is not involved in reporting or editing.

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