TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Can you imagine sleeping in a conference room in an office building, night after night? It’s happening in Hillsborough County to children who’ve been taken from their homes by investigators.
These children have been through the worst. They’ve been taken from their homes because of abuse, substance abuse, neglect or domestic violence. And now, some of them are sleeping in an office building conference room.
“Is sleeping in an office building a better situation? That is not helping them. I know that from first-hand experience; I’m a guardian,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman said. “This is a state issue of course. We can only do some much at the county level. Definitely, we can advocate and we can help these kids out of offices, sleeping in chairs overnight. That is something we do not want in this county.”
News Channel Eight went to a Devereux office in Tampa where the director confirmed kids are sleeping there on a night-by-night basis. The problem is more kids are coming into the system than are going out, the director said.
Devereux is a state sub-contractor.
“I was mortified actually,” Murman said about the situation.
Robin Rosenberg from child advocacy group Florida’s Children First pointed to multiple issues that have led to the current situation with kids sleeping in office buildings. It’s problematic, Rosenberg said.
“Clearly, we wouldn’t ever as a state say we are going to take you from a bad situation and put you in a worse one. We have to be saying we are offering you something better,” she said. “It’s the power of the state that takes a child from their parents and puts them into the system, and it’s the state that holds the ultimate responsibility for every child.”
News Channel 8 reached out to the Department of Children and Families Thursday. We were pointed to the department’s contractor, Eckerd Kids. Eckerd Kids releasing a statement from spokeswoman Terri Durdaller. It reads:
“Eckerd Kids’ top priority is always the safety and well-being of children in our system of care. Statewide removal rates are on the incline. In our Tampa Bay community, we are experiencing a 30 percent increase in children entering our care due to removal from an unsafe home environment.
Unfortunately, this has created a situation where it has occasionally become necessary to house overnight a few youth in an office environment that has been made as comfortable as possible for them. Their stay in this setting is typically no more than one night.
These youth are our most difficult to serve. Most have involvement with the juvenile justice system and or exhibit other behaviors that limit options for their placement.
Eckerd Kids is working diligently to find partner agencies to increase temporary options for the youth that we serve. Our goal is to find every child a permanent home.”
Meanwhile, Commissioner Murman is demanding more answers. “I’m definitely going to meet with secretary of DCF Mike Carroll and get to the bottom of it and see what can we do,” she said.
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