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State selects replacement for Eckerd Connects to run foster care in Pinellas, Pasco

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Pinellas and Pasco counties will soon have a new agency in charge of their foster care system.

Family Support Services of North Florida will fully take over on January 1, 2022.

Pinellas and Pasco counties will soon have a new agency directing foster care services.

The Florida Department of Children and Families announced that Family Support Services of North Florida (FSS) will take over Jan. 1 as the new Community-Based Care Lead Agency for Circuit 6, which covers Pasco and Pinellas Counties.

The transition will begin this week, according to the department. Family Support Services also has a contract to oversee foster care in Nassau and Duval counties and has shown success taking care of children, Shevaun Harris, the department’s secretary, said in a statement.

“FSS has proven to be successful in caring for children in Northeast Florida while offering a robust continuum of services,” Harris said. “This is our opportunity to rebuild the system of care in these counties that truly addresses the needs of children and families it serves by engaging the community to leverage all available resources. We looked for a qualified lead agency who knew how to activate the community and reach partners, and we know that FSS will work diligently to carry this out in Circuit 6.”

Jenn Petion, president and CEO of the agency, said in a statement that success in Northeast Florida is dependent on “a model that focuses on family preservation, collaboration with the community, kinship support, and timely permanency.”

“We’ve been successful in part because of our ability to mobilize available resources in the community and build lasting relationships, particularly with those entities with a proven record of helping improve challenging systems of care,” Petion said. “We look forward to walking alongside the partners of Circuit 6 to share our lessons learned and to help strengthen the system of care for Pasco and Pinellas counties.”

The move follows the agency’s decision not to renew its contract with Clearwater nonprofit Eckerd Connects to provide foster care services in Pasco and Pinellas counties. Eckerd Connects also announced it is also walking away from a contract in Hillsborough County.

In early November, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Eckerd Connects was being investigated for housing abused, neglected children in its Largo office spaces where several have been hurt.

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.