Was thriving teen made homeless by Hillsborough’s foster care system?

Investigations

Travis Bailey, a star student at Armwood High School, was thriving in his home life when Hillsborough County’s foster care system sent him back to live with his father in Maine under a judge’s order, essentially making him homeless, his brother claims.  

Adam Watson is Travis’ half brother. They share the same mother, but have different fathers. 

Watson told 8 On Your Side their mother lost custody of Travis a long time ago due to her issues with drug abuse. He claims Travis’ father was happy to let Watson and his fiancé assume the role of legal guardians and raise Travis in Tampa until they began moving toward permanent guardianship last year.

The court ordered Travis to leave their home in December to resume living with his father in Maine, but Watson says he returned for Spring Break in March with the news that he and his father were essentially homeless and begged to stay with Watson and his fiance in Tampa.

Watson said that eventually lead to a court hearing two weeks ago when Hillsborough Circuit Judge Jack Espinosa ordered Travis immediately return to his father. He was taken directly from court to an airplane with nothing more than his cell phone, wallet and the clothes on his back—all based on the promise of a stable living situation with a family friend back in Maine, according to Watson.

“As soon as he got there, he texted us and said we’re going to a hotel room there is no family friend I’m staying with we only have the room until tomorrow and I don’t know what I’m going to do after that,” Watson said.  “This shouldn’t happen to any children let alone somebody that we love and care for.”

Hillsborough Courts spokesman Mike Moore says Espinosa can’t comment on the case due to confidentiality restrictions.

Eckerd Connects, which oversees foster care in Hillsborough County issued a statement saying that confidentiality rules prevent it from commenting on any specific case but essentially placed responsibility on the judge and the Maine child welfare system for “any out of state placement.”

Eckerd Connects and Directions for Living—the contractor that employs the caseworker—released the following joint statement: 

“Any out of state placement requires that the receiving state assigns a case manager to visit the home, approve the placement and monitor the safety and well-being of the child. If we receive concerns for the receiving state we would be required to take immediate action based upon the regulations of the interstate agreement.”

Meanwhile, Travis Bailey is reportedly living with a family friend in Maine while his father attempts to secure stable housing and his brother in Tampa dreams of the day when the teenager comes back to live in the bedroom he keeps set aside for him and return to Armwood where he was one of the top-ranked students in his class.

“We have the means to take care of him without state funding without getting child support from the parents we don’t care about that what we care about is him thriving and being able to have a decent chance at a future,” Watson said. “I had to fight to get to where I am we didn’t want him to have to do that.”

Tonight at 6 p.m., we’ll untangle this complicated story of how the child welfare system is working—or not working—in the best interest of Travis Bailey. You be the judge.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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