TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — 8 On Your Side is learning the real amount of kids, who were taken from their homes due to abuse or negligence and then taken to sleep in office buildings, is more than twice as what was originally reported.
Eckerd Kids, the Department of Children and Families contractor in Hillsborough County, now reported 38 kids slept in offices between April and June of 2016. They also reported that 43 children have slept in offices since July of 2015 due to a lack of placements for the children.
The report indicated a much different story than what Eckerd Kids originally told 8 On Your Side in June. We were originally told only 17 children slept in offices.
“When we first had our first kid in care not have a placement was during the month of May,” Lorita Shirley from Eckerd Kids said in June 2016. “Total there was a period of about 2.5 weeks where the removals were so significant that we were not able to immediately accommodate the kids at the time that they entered the system.”
Shirley said this last month, June 2016, when a review found this problem was happening since July 2015.
“Those individual kids were able to have a placement identified within a day or two of their entrance into the foster care system,” said Shirley in June 2016. However, the report indicates some kids stayed up to three nights in office buildings.
The Internal Review from Eckerd said, “For at least 14 of the total nights, an appropriate placement was identified for 10 youth, but the youth refused the placement. Lead Agencies have no legal authority to compel a youth to go to a placement even if it is appropriate.”
News Channel 8 also obtained a memo from DCF Secretary Mike Carroll to contractors, which said, “This memo serves to reinforce the Department’s expectation that no child removed from his/her home shall be allowed, directed, or otherwise put in a position to sleep or spend any significant, extended period of time in a Department, Community-Based Care (CBC) Lead Agency or Case Management Organization office, hotel/motel or other unapproved or unlicensed placement.”
“No matter how high the number is, I don’t care if it’s 43, 38, 17 or 1, not one child should ever sleep in an office if they’ve been removed and gone through that traumatic experience of being removed from their home,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman once she received the report Tuesday.
“If the care agencies in the local counties and the local counties can not adhere to these policies then we’ve got to turn those contracts over to people that will,” added Murman.
Eckerd has now said they initially reported incorrect number after an employee “failed to report the overnight stays of children in unlicensed placements,” through email Tuesday. Eckerd spokeswoman Terri Durdaller said that employee was Hillsborough County Executive Director for Eckerd Rachel Smith, who resigned Monday.
DCF issued the following statement to News Channel 8:
“Eckerd’s inappropriate placement of these children, and other failure to report these incidents, is inexcusable and absolutely unacceptable. DCF is committed to the well-being of every child under our care and has deployed an oversight team to conduct daily monitoring and onsite visits of Eckerd Kids to ensure the provider is complying with their internal improvement plan so that this does not happen again.”