An evaluation of the two nonprofit agencies vying for the roughly $49-million contract to provide foster care services in Pinellas and Pasco counties on Monday failed to produce a clear front-runner.
An 11-member evaluation team scored Eckerd Youth Alternatives and Camelot Community Care — both based in Clearwater — on everything from foster parent recruitment plans to financial stability. The results were nearly a tie, with Camelot receiving a 2-point advantage.
The Florida Department of Children and Families will announce the official scores today, and whether it plans to negotiate a contract with one or both of the agencies.
"It's squeaky close," said Nick Cox, the DCF's regional director in Tampa.
The scores are used as a guideline for the DCF in its contract negotiations. Unlike a strict bidding process, the agency with the highest score doesn't automatically win.
Camelot, which formed in 1999, provides mental health and juvenile services locally. In Fort Myers, it is the area's lead foster care provider doing business as the Children's Network of Southwest Florida. It also subcontracts for some foster care work with three agencies, including Hillsborough Kids Inc. in Tampa.
Eckerd is a 40-year-old agency that works with troubled youths in nine states. It has not worked directly in the field of child welfare, but has focused primarily in the realm of juvenile offenders.
The winning agency would take over for the ousted Sarasota Family YMCA beginning July 1.
Cox said he will decide who to negotiate with after consulting with DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth and Assistant Secretary George Sheldon.
He declined to comment further.
Evaluation team member Jeanine Evoli, manager of child welfare advocacy for the Pinellas Juvenile Welfare Board, said she was impressed with the detailed proposals by both groups.
"They both had some good ideas," she said.
The DCF is seeking a new lead foster agency in the two counties after announcing in November that it would not to renew the YMCA's northern contract in Pinellas and Pasco. The decision followed a scathing report about the agency's poor performance and St. Petersburg Times stories that contrasted its above-average funding and its lackluster performance.
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