PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — The Florida Department of Children and Families announced last week that Family Support Services of North Florida will be the new Community-Based Care Lead Agency for Pasco and Pinellas Counties. 

As the lead agency, they will provide an array of comprehensive child protection and child welfare services within the counties to ensure the safety and well-being of children in their care. 

“FSS has proven to be successful in caring for children in Northeast Florida while offering a robust continuum of services,” said DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris. “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.” 

Last month, Eckerd Connects announced they would no longer provide child welfare services within Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco Counties once their current contract with the state expires at the end of the year. 

According to our partners at the Tampa Bay Times, DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris decided not to renew the state's $80 million contract with the Clearwater nonprofit due to frustration over the agency's performance and a history of "jeopardizing the health safety and welfare of dependent children."

Eckerd Connects is currently under investigation by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office over reports of children in Eckerd's care sleeping in unlicensed offices in "disgusting and deplorable" conditions.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said several children have been injured or found themselves in other dangerous situations while in the agency's care. 

Days after the sheriff's office launched their investigation into the nonprofit, Eckerd Connects announced they were closing several locations in Pinellas and Pasco Counties at the end of the year. More than 200 employees will be affected.

FSS will begin transitioning to its new role and fully take over the Circuit 6 contract on January 1.