The number of family separations has been dramatically reduced in two Florida counties since the state took over foster care services from a private contractor, according to Florida Politics.
The Department of Children and Families declined to extend its contracts with Eckerd Connects in November amid criticism that the provider agency was removing children from Pinellas and Pasco County homes at more than twice the statewide rate.
Within 45 days of assuming foster care services, the state announced, it had halved the rate of separations in the two Tampa Bay area counties, whose cities include St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
Notice that the Eckerd contracts would not be extended came the same day that Eckerd informed the state that it did not want its contracts, which it had held since 2008, to be extended. The state said Eckerd was needlessly taking too many children away from their homes and placing them in unsafe and unlicensed facilities for too long.
Family Support Services of North Florida, now operating as Family Support Services of Suncoast, was selected to take over the contracts, but late last year, DCF took over foster care services during the transition.
Florida Politics reported that child advocate Richard Wexler of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform expressed satisfaction that the state had finally admitted Eckerd’s record of wrongful terminations was a problem. But Wexler said the decision to do something about it was not a bold, praiseworthy move but rather a long-overdue correction of mismanagement by Eckerd, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and the state itself.
The Sheriff’s Office acts as the protective services agency in Pinellas County.