Former foster child speaks after 8 On Your Side investigation reveals foster kids kept in cars in parking lot

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Danielle McMahan knows exactly what it’s like to live in limbo.  She’s been there and experienced the chaos and confusion firsthand.

The one thing she wanted above all else?

“I wanted love. I wanted the belonging,” McMahan told News Channel 8. “I wanted to know I was safe.”

She grew up in foster care during one of the most difficult times in life – the teenage years.

The 25-year-old and her sister were exposed to horrific violence as children. She endured many moments a child should never hear or see.

For this young woman, it was a life she survived, one she is now using to thrive.

McMahan’s future is filled with hope, positivity and a spirit of paying it forward.

The once-foster child has devoted her heart and career to helping others who have walked her same path.

After all, no one knows better how to help those in turmoil than someone who’s been there.

McMahan admits her heart goes out to the children currently caught in the middle of what experts are calling a failure of the foster system.

In a month-long investigation of foster care in Hillsborough County, 8 On Your Side discovered a disturbing practice of keeping foster kids in cars day and night at a Wawa gas station because they had nowhere else to go.

One day after we started asking questions, Eckerd Connects fired its contractor, Youth and Family Alternatives, the provider of that foster care, citing a lack of proper supervision.

As many as a dozen hard to place foster teens are forced to spend their days confined to cars in the Wawa parking lot on Waters Avenue in Tampa while their caseworkers try to find them a bed to sleep in for the night.

McMahan’s hope is that these foster children do not get lost in the shuffle. She maintains they need one thing.

“Even if agencies are not doing the right thing at the time, there are people out there that still care,” she said. “I think that’s all a kid needs is somebody who loves them.”

Child advocacy lawyer Robin Rosenberg says the system failed these children involved in the Youth and Family Alternatives situation, essentially creating more trauma in their already traumatic lives.  Agencies, she believes, have got to do better.

“It’s the opposite of good parenting to ignore children, to leave them unsupervised,” she said. “We, as a community, expect you to be the best parents you can be for children, you have to get out of the business.”

Rosenberg has a unique perspective.

She not only fights for the rights of children. She, herself, was once a foster mother to her infant son years ago. She has since adopted him, and he is a thriving, happy 10-year-old.

“They are amazing individuals and we have to empower them to be that,” she said.

As for McMahan, she is also hoping that agencies will step up and do the right thing.

Her wish for the future?

To see more foster homes and foster families open their hearts.

“Children need love, they want to feel like they belong,” she said.

“They need people to tell them that they believe in them because a lot of these teenagers don’t believe in themselves.”

If you want to learn more about being a foster parent, you can go online for more information from the Florida Department of Children and Families.

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