TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Two separate groups of foster parents are getting organized to present a stronger front when faced with what they call various shortcomings in the child welfare system, including the ongoing issue of children sleeping in unlicensed settings.
Reports that overnight stays in an Eckerd Connects office in Tampa have not stopped hit a nerve with dozens of local parents who insist there are enough open beds in licensed homes even for emergency placements.
According to Eckerd, the company that’s paid $77 million a year to provide Tampa Bay area foster care, 50 Hillsborough County foster children and another 14 in Pinellas and Pasco counties spent at least one night last year in unlicensed settings such as offices.
Largo foster parent Joshua Nwajei is part of a group setting up a non-profit aimed at ending the office placements that usually involve the most difficult children to place.
“The ball’s being dropped constantly for these children,” Nwajei said. “I love the kids. I want to try my best to be some sort of meaningful change for these kids.”
In a separate effort, Florida is now the 18th state to join a relatively new national movement to unionize parents and foster parents.
Shelli Botello, vice president of Families Against Legal Kidnapping, said the organization’s goals include providing legal guidance, changing child welfare laws and advocating for the children stuck in the middle.
“We have some foster children who are part of the group too. We want a system that protects them but also doesn’t destroy them in the process,” Botello said. “If you have a bunch of broken kids that are depressed – how do we fix this? It’s just going to one issue after another.”
Dunedin’s Andraea Thorn, the president of Florida’s Foster Parent Union, said one goal is to be part of the process that reunites the child with their biological parents when possible.
“I’m hoping the union will fix our current broken system and will allow foster parents to advocate for reunification without repercussions,” Thorn said. “And not be threatened [the child] will be moved to a different home.”
Botello said the union hopes to help foster parents be a link between the children and their biological families.
“This is important for several reasons,” Botello said. “Health care questions, education and the possibility of reunification.”