LISTEN: New Child Welfare Agency Begins Transition in Pinellas, Pasco

CLEARWATER -- The head of the agency that is taking over child services in Pinellas and Pasco counties is meeting with community leaders and stakeholders this week.

Family Support Services, based out of Jacksonville, is set to go on the job January 1st. It replaces Eckerd Connects, which lost the contract after a series of incidents that made the news, in which children and teens were required to sleep in offices because Eckerd couldn't place them with foster homes. Petion says there will be efforts to ease the transition.

President and CEO Jenn Petion says FSS has a model that has worked in Duval and Nassau counties since 2006. Petion says FSS' first step is to meet with community leaders and key players in the system. "We believe that we have a model of family preservation and strong permanency outcomes" for children who need to enter the system. Petion says they want to find out what the community needs in terms of support as they work to adapt their model to their new service area. She says FSS has a strong relationship with the court system and foster parents that has created "a strong and stable system of care." Petion says FSS challenges its staffers to "look for new solutions to current problems."

Petion says her organization works to keep children in their current homes whenever possible, and that happens about half the time in Duval and Nassau. In the remaining cases, they try for "kinship placement," putting children with close relatives, before going to outside foster families. "We know that... kinship placements tend to have better outcomes," Petion said.

Petion says the situation in her northeast Florida territory in 2006 was much like the one in Pinellas and Pasco, with a higher number of children and in and out of home care. She says FSS' "foster care redesign" made it possible to safely keep children out of the foster care system, which makes it possible to stretch state money further.

Petion says FSS hasn't decided whether or how many people it will hire as staffers.

Listen to an interview with Jenn Petion below:

Photo: Canva

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