Hundreds impacted as Gulf Coast foster agency closes doors in Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – A Polk County foster care agency is closing its doors, leaving other organizations scrambling to find new caseworkers for more than 500 children.

The Gulf Coast Jewish Family And Community Services is shutting down the Lakeland location and discontinuing services for those families.

“The number of children that Gulf Coast currently has on their caseload is 541,” Heartland For Children CEO Teri Saunders confirmed.

Saunders said it has been all hands on deck at Heartland as they work to divide the 541 children among the three remaining case management agencies in Polk County. Those agencies include Children’s Home Society of Florida, Devereux Florida and One Hope United.

“We are working long hours and working diligently to make sure that we’re going to have a smooth transition of operations,”  Saunders told WFLA.

WFLA went inside the Lakeland Gulf Coast location along U.S. 98 South to find out why they’re closing. Staff there referred WFLA to their CEO at their office in Pinellas County. As of 6 p.m. Wednesday the CEO had not responded to WFLA.

Despite the closure, Saunders believes the local agencies are prepared.

“We have been making plans for this transition. Just last week we hosted a career fair for all of the current Gulf Coast employees so that they can learn about the other three agencies,” she told WFLA.

One of the agencies, Children’s Home Society of Florida, confirmed they will be taking in 90 of the children. A spokesperson said they’re hiring additional staff to handle the extra children and did not have plans to increase caseloads. The spokesperson also told WFLA current case managers handle 24 children each.

The Gulf Coast Jewish Family And Community Services Lakeland location is expected to shut down at the end of March.

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