Below is an excerpt from the July 8, 2022, story by Mark Parker of the St. Pete Catalyst. Read the full story here.

When Family Support Services (FSS) became the lead agency for Pinellas and Pasco Counties’ child welfare system this year, the organization’s leadership knew they faced many challenges.

The Florida Department of Children and Families terminated its contract with Eckerd Connects, the agency in charge of finding homes for local kids, after the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) launched an investigation into the organization. The long-time but much-embattled provider of foster and childcare services reportedly forced children to sleep on cots and under desks at its administrative office in Largo – without clean clothes or hot meals.

While based in Jacksonville, Jenn Petion, president and CEO of FSS, said she watched the crisis unfold in Pinellas for years.

Jenn Petion, Family Support Services CEO and President

“We recognized coming into the community that there were a lot of challenges,” said Petion. “There were a lot of broken relationships and things that needed to be mended.

“But I wouldn’t call it daunting because we really felt like we’ve had the community support all along the way.”

Through community partnerships, Petion said FSS is already reducing the number of children entering the foster system through home removals and increasing the number that exit into permanent homes. …

She said many kids could and should have exited the program for reunification with parents, adoption or other permanent solutions. However, they could not make it through the process because “the system just got overloaded.”

That is why FSS has put such a strong emphasis on exiting children to permanency.

“We’ve now had – for the last three months – more kids exit the system than have come in,” said Petion. “And we know that is a needed marker for us to keep the system moving in the right direction to the right size.”

Read the full story from St. Pete Catalyst here.