TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA)—Governor Rick Scott has a problem with the failures we recently exposed in our investigation into Hillsborough’s foster care system.
“I’m a father and now a grandfather and you want every child to be treated with respect and fulfill whatever their dreams are,” Gov. Scott told 8 On Your Side.
One of our most recent investigations shed light on “hard to place” foster children living in limbo, spending countless hours in the custody of caseworkers at a Wawa gas station parking lot in Tampa because caseworkers have nowhere to take them.
RELATED: Former foster child speaks after 8 On Your Side investigation reveals foster kids kept in cars in parking lot
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One foster teen told a caseworker she is perpetually hungry and can only shower once a week because of her chaotic and uncertain life.
“DCF is going to hold people accountable,” Scott said. (DCF Secretary) Mike Carroll works hard to make sure people are taken care of in this state.”
When we shared the results of our investigation with Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman Monday, she called Carroll to express her concerns. The next day, Eckerd Connects, which oversees foster care services in Hillsborough as the lead agency paid by DCF, fired Youth and Family Alternatives (YFA), one of Hillsborough’s three providers of foster care, for failing to properly supervise foster teens.
A brief investigation by Eckerd revealed that some of the most troubled foster teens were being given bus passes by YFA and released into the community without supervision on a daily basis. That triggered an ongoing abuse investigation.
Our own investigation, which started a month earlier, revealed some of those same foster teens given bus passes had been banned from YFA’s offices due to “bad behavior” and were routinely warehoused in the Wawa parking lot when YFA workers were unable to connect them with home placements.
The foster teens weren’t going to school, didn’t attend other day programs and sometimes missed meals while they waited in parked cars at the Wawa for as long as 12 hours or more each day, according to a former YFA caseworker.
“This makes you mad when people don’t do the right thing,” Governor Scott said Thursday “We’re not going to tolerate people not taking care of these kids. I mean I love my kids I’m sure every family in the state takes care of their kids and we have to make sure we take care of all of our foster kids.”
A growing number of critics within the foster care system insist privately that Eckerd is to blame and are using YFA as a scapegoat.
Eckerd is responsible for recruiting foster homes and making sure there are enough placements for children—especially the handful of teenagers with serious behavior issues who keep ending up at the Wawa station.
Eckerd admits they’ve been aware of the Wawa situation since November, but the organization insists YFA had promised their executives the practice had been stopped. However, our investigation proved it was still ongoing.
On Thursday, Gov. Scott fell short of saying Eckerd should be fired. “I know that DCF is going to hold everybody accountable,” Scott said.
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