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Two foster care agencies in running

The Florida Department of Children and Families has decided to negotiate with both nonprofit agencies that applied to take over foster care services in Pinellas and Pasco counties.

One group, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, has no experience overseeing foster care services but has deep local roots.

Its competitor, Camelot Community Care, has lots of experience with abused and neglected children but its partnership with an out-of-state, for-profit company has been questioned in the past.

DCF is expected to choose one of the agencies for the $49-million contract early next month. The winner would take responsibility for the two counties' 2,500 foster children July 1.

Nick Cox, the DCF's regional director in Tampa, said he decided to negotiate with both agencies after an outside evaluation Monday failed to produce a clear frontrunner.

"Clearly the evaluators saw two bids that were good, that really were very comparable,'' he said. "I think we need to No. 1, get the best system we can. And No. 2, to be fair to the bidders involved and negotiate with both and see what they have to offer.''

Camelot's chief executive officer, Mike DiBrizzi, said he believes his agency's experience will shine through in the negotiation process.

Eckerd spokesman Tom Denham said his agency's decades-long work with troubled youth will show its commitment.

"Our mission is to help kids,'' Denham said. "We believe that helping kids in (drug store founder Jack Eckerd's) hometown would be especially relevant.''

This is the first time DCF has negotiated with two foster agencies at the same time.

"We believe the competition is healthy," Erin Geraghty, a DCF spokeswoman.

When DCF last sought bids for the area, the Sarasota Family YMCA was the only interested agency.

Whichever agency is chosen, it will be the third nonprofit to oversee foster care in Pinellas and Pasco since the state began privatizing the child welfare system in 1997.

Family Continuity, a private agency, pulled out in 2004 after four years and financial problems. State officials then asked the Sarasota YMCA to step in and take over Pinellas and Pasco.

In November, the DCF announced it would not renew the Sarasota YMCA's contract in Pinellas and Pasco on the heels of a scathing report about the agency's poor performance.

One of DCF's priorities is to find a new foster agency with local ties, because the Sarasota-based YMCA was seen as being too far away to provide substantial community support.

Eckerd and Camelot are both based in Clearwater.

Eckerd is a 40-year-old private, nonprofit agency that provides services such as counseling, wilderness camps and residential programs to troubled youth in nine states.

Nine-year-old Camelot is a nonprofit social services agency overseen by a five-member board.

It partners for some of its operations with Tucson, Ariz.-based Providence Service Corp., a publicly traded company.

A Camelot subsidiary, the Children's Network of Southwest Florida, is the lead foster care provider in Fort Myers in Lee, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Charlotte counties.

How the agencies stack up

Camelot Community CareEckerd Youth Alternatives
Mission"To develop and provide services that enable children and families to realize their own potential."

"Develop and share programs that promote the well-being of children and serve at-risk youth and their families."
OrganizationA private, nonprofit overseen by a five-member board. The agency partners for human resources, accounting and payroll services with the Tucson, Ariz.-based Providence Service Corp., a publicly traded, for-profit company. Headquarters in Clearwater. Founded in 1999. More than 500 employees. Annual budget of $65.6-million.Private, nonprofit agency overseen by a nine-member board of directors. Headquarters in Clearwater. Founded in 1968. About 1,400 employees. Annual budget of $86-million.
ExperienceCurrently serving about 6,000 children in child welfare services. In 2003, Camelot Community Care was chosen as the main foster agency in Lee, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Charlotte counties through a subsidiary company, the Children's Network of Southwest Florida LLC. It is also a case management subcontractor for three other Florida lead foster agencies, Hillsborough Kids, Kids Central and Big Bend Community Based Care.Currently serving about 10,000 youths with emotional and mental problems annually through more than 40 programs in nine states. The agency tries to create better alternatives to help at-risk and high-risk children, including juvenile offenders. Services include early intervention, day treatment and residential programs.

Two foster care agencies in running 03/04/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 5, 2008 3:38pm]

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