TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Losing custody of their children was heartbreaking for Robert White and Ashlee Harris but it got worse after they found out about a sex crime investigation involving their daughters’ foster parent.
Geoffrey Prout, 31, of Tampa, was charged with several crimes in November. He has now pleaded guilty to the seven charges that include sexual battery, lewd, lascivious molestation and selling obscene material to a minor.
Prout was sentenced to 20 years in prison, 20 years probation and he will be required to register as a sex offender when he is released.
His daughters were not victims of the sex crimes, but White said they did live in Prout’s home while the investigation was underway.
“They took them from us thinking they were doing something good when really they did worse for my children,” White said. “That has traumatized them. They don’t like talking about it. They close up when you talk about it.”
White and Harris turned to 8 on Your Side when Prout was cleared of an assault allegation made by one of their children. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) investigation was completed about two weeks after Prout was charged with the sex crimes.
According to a DCF report, White’s daughter told a Child Protective Investigator “Mr. Geoffrey hits me.”
“It was noted during her body assessment that (the child) has bruising to her buttocks, arms and legs,” the report states.
While Prout was absolved of the claim he hit the child, the DCF report stated there were no foster children in Prout’s home when the investigation involving White’s daughter was completed.
White and Harris said they are finalizing the process to get their children back, but they added that they are angry no one told them about the sex crime investigation while their daughters were living in Prout’s home.
“You think that nothing like that could happen to you and it happens,” Harris said. “And it’s an uneasy feeling.”
“It’s unbelievable,” White said. “I just can’t believe the vetting process couldn’t have been more in depth.”
Prout’s attorney has not responded yet to a request for comment about the sentence.
DCF Deputy Chief of Staff Mallory McManus said the department works closely law enforcement on investigations of allegations of abuse, neglect or abandonment.
“These allegations are completely heinous, and upon learning about them all children were removed from the home and the foster parent license was revoked,” McManus said. “The Department takes very seriously the placement of children in our care and to ensure their safety and well-being. A part of that includes extensive vetting of foster parent prior to issuing a license.”
McManus said the licensing process includes background checks that screen criminal records, 911 calls to the home, civil records, sexual offender registries and abuse registries for all household members 12 years or older.