HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — For years, 8 On Your Side has been exposing the problem—foster children sleeping in offices and vehicles, instead of actual homes.
It’s been seven months since The Children’s Network of Hillsborough took over Eckerd Connects and started managing Hillsborough County’s failing foster care system.
The Florida Department of Children and Families cut ties with Eckerd in 2021, years after 8 On Your Side exposed problems with the private contractor. The report found foster children had been sleeping in vehicles and offices and going without food, showers or school for extended periods of time.
On Tuesday, for the first time since taking over for Eckerd , The Children’s Network of Hillsborough released data to the public about how many kids are still sleeping in unlicensed settings.
“No child should be in an unlicensed setting, let’s put that out there,” said CEO Nadereh Salim.
At a meeting on Tuesday, Salim revealed 33 children had spent the night in an unlicensed setting during the month of January.
“The average for the month of January were four children per night,” said Salim.
The report released Tuesday mentioned children as young as 8 and 9 years old, and a 16-year-old who spent 20 nights without a home placement.
“We need to work on these kids, and figure out what the issue is with a system that were not able to find a placement,” Salim said during her presentation.
“We’re just happy to have the numbers, and to be able to look at data. We understand in order to make changes, in order to make meaningful changes, and in order to make improvements, we have to know where we are,” said Judge Katherine Essrig, Chair of the Community Alliance.
Essrig said while it’s never ok for kids to not have placement, it’s important to give the Children’s Network time.
“By looking at these numbers and seeing the data, and they’re trending in the right direction, we’re happy to see, but that gives us ideas as to what we can do differently, what our challenges are, and what improvements we can still make.”