New report outlines how foster system failed vulnerable teens in Tampa Bay

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Remember the 8 On Your Side investigation into rides to nowhere?

8 On Your Side Investigates made the disturbing discovery in 2018 of foster children kept confined in cars for hours at a Tampa Wawa parking lot while caseworkers tried to find them somewhere to sleep for the night.

A new 54-page report from a professor at the University of Miami Law School’s Children and Youth Law Clinic is providing data-driven analysis of how the system failed these vulnerable teens.

“Without the data, you cannot make an argument anymore,” said Kelley Parris, the Executive Director of the Hillsborough County Children’s Board.

The report found Hillsborough County has two problems: “the highest concentration of highly unstable children” in the state and the “highest concentration of providers who eject children” from their care.

“Any time you move a child more than three times in a placement it is a lifelong trauma to that child,” Parris explained.

The report found 49 of the county’s highest-risk children in care had changed placements ten times more than typical teens.

8 On Your Side spoke by phone with the study’s author, Robert Latham. He said one of his biggest takeaways is that the system failed the foster children by routinely shuffling them back into homes where they had already been kicked out.

“Being ejected by providers after placement was the most pronounced feature of children who refused placement,” he wrote in a blog about the study.   

A majority of the children analyzed in the study are non-white and with higher levels of mental health needs.

Latham said many of them are moved hundreds of miles around the state because Hillsborough County “appears to lack local therapeutic providers that can work effectively with this population.”  

“We need to keep them here,” Parris told 8 On Your Side. “Its their friends, its their neighbors, its their comfort zone.”

Progress is being made, Parris said, referencing the Board of Commissioners funding an assessment center for all of the county’s children.    

“This is a big step toward making sure these children get what they need and us not punishing these children for systems failure,” she said.

Latham plans to present the findings from his report next week to lawmakers in Tallahassee. On Feb. 11, he is scheduled to meet with local officials from the Hillsborough Community Care Alliance.  

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