Clearwater nonprofit loses $4.6 million foster care contract

Directions for Living struggled with high turnover of case managers. Lead care agency Eckerd Connects plans to take the work in-house.
Chris Card, chief of community-based care for Eckerd Connects.
Chris Card, chief of community-based care for Eckerd Connects. [ DOUGLAS CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Aug. 28, 2019|Updated Aug. 28, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Nonprofit group Directions for Living has lost a $4.6 million contract to provide foster care case managers in Pinellas County.

Lead foster care agency Eckerd Connects announced in a letter sent to stakeholders earlier this week that it is “transitioning” the group’s contract. It plans to bring more than 550 cases being handled by Directions in-house, which it said would enable it to develop better ways to support case managers.

Chief of Community Care Chris Card acknowledged in an interview that Directions has struggled to retain and recruit critical case manager and supervisor positions. Directions was one of three nonprofits to provide case managers in Pinellas and Pasco counties, which are classified as a single child welfare circuit.

“They were having some staff turnover issues and it seemed like we wanted to start someplace,” Card said.

The decision does not affect Directions’ contract with Eckerd Connects in Hillsborough County, Card said.

Directions had a case manager turnover rate of 104 percent over the past year, according to reports produced by Eckerd Connects. The two other agencies in Pinellas and Pasco also struggled to hang onto case managers, the data shows. But Directions was the only agency that was also hemorrhaging supervisors.

Directions officials had not commented by late Wednesday.

Founded in 1982, Directions for Living has over 400 employees operating in five counties, according to its website. It has provided case management services in Pinellas for at least 15 years.

Two of its Pinellas case managers were at the center of two high-profile deaths of Pinellas children while under the watch of the state.

In July 2017, 8-month-old William Hendrickson IV died after being left with his father in a Largo mobile home where the temperature rose to 109 degrees. A state investigation concluded that his case manager, who visited the home one day before the boy’s death, failed to take necessary action.

And in September 2018, police say 2-year-old Jordan Belliveau was killed by his mother while under the supervision of a Directions case manager. A state investigation found that child welfare agencies missed warning signs, failed to make home visits and said nothing when his mother lied in court about completing mandatory counseling classes.

April Lott, president and CEO of Directions for Living.
April Lott, president and CEO of Directions for Living. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]

The state is looking into another death of a child whose case was being managed by Directions. On Aug. 12, a Pinellas County 11-year-old boy died in Polk County after he was taken to the hospital when he began to vomit after complaining of an upset stomach. The investigation is ongoing.

The transition of cases and case managers from Directions to Eckerd Connects will happen over the next 60 days, Card said.

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To ensure continuity in children’s cases, Eckerd Connects will hire most of the existing case managers, Card said. About 75 positions are affected by the transition.

“It’s tough and we’re trying to make some changes to improve this system,” Card said. “We hope to learn from this experience and support case management everywhere else.”

St. Petersburg City Council member Amy Foster, who is also executive director of the Guardian ad Litem Foundation of Tampa Bay, said the purpose of outsourcing case management was so the lead agency could provide oversight.

“I hope we can expect full transparency when the lead agency is providing services and oversight at the same time,” Foster said.