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Department of Children and Families announces new lead agency in place of Eckerd Connects

Before the end of November, the agency will begin the transition of activities and take over the Circuit 6 contract in full on the first day of 2022.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Department of Children and Families (DCF) announced Family Support Services of North Florida (FSS) as the new community-based care lead agency amid a split from Eckerd Connects. 

A team from DCF worked to find and select an agency that shared the same vision as the department "around prevention, integration and collaboration while integrating an evidence-based, trauma-informed, approach to protect the best interest of children in Florida," a news release from the DCF explained.

The lead agency will reportedly provide child protection and child welfare services that will make sure there is safety, well-being and permanency for the children in their care.

Before the end of November, FSS will begin the transition of activities and take over the Circuit 6 contract in full on the first day of 2022, the release explains. Circuit 6 covers Pasco and Pinellas counties.

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

“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.”

RELATED: Eckerd Connects will close 3 Tampa Bay area locations by year's end

This new lead agency switch follows after Eckerd Connects announced plans to shut down three of its locations amid a criminal investigation into child abuse and neglect allegations.  

About 231 employees across the three centers in Largo, Dade City and Trinity will be affected by the closures.

Letters sent to each facility say the locations will close on Dec. 31 "as a result of unforeseeable circumstances." The letters say the circumstances of the closure were "not reasonably foreseeable" until DCF said it would not be renewing its contracts in the area.

The contracts in Pinellas and Pasco counties end in December 2021. In Hillsborough County, Eckerd's contract ends on June 30, 2022.

Eckerd has maintained it was discontinuing services because it was not getting sufficient funding from DCF. However, DCF said "repeated failures" by Eckerd were the reason the contracts were being terminated.