TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — 8 on Your Side is learning more about the conditions of kids sleeping in offices in Hillsborough County. A former case manager who quit her job in the past month spoke to 8 On Your Side about her experience.
“There were stories of children smearing feces all over the one side of an office and hazmat having to come in, a number of chairs of employees having to be thrown out,” said the worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in fear of retaliation.
“The children started a small fire on the reception desk and got the fire extinguisher and blew the fire extinguishers all over the front lobby,” said the worker about an incident that was confirmed by a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office report.
The worker tells 8 Your Side that she left her job, frustrated when she didn’t feel like she was helping children any longer.
“They were numbers to everyone there and if they had a behavior problem they were in our offices and we were trying our best to take care of them,” said the worker about the foster children’s behavior, which became worse when some kids had to sleep in office buildings.
“When they get mad and angry and start throwing things, you have to put yourself what you would be acting like if you were stuck in an office all day long and you were fed a little cup of Chef Boyardee and thing of crackers for lunch,” said the worker, who tells us she is one of many who left her job at the state sub-contractor Youth and Families Alternatives Inc.
Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll took a break from his vacation Wednesday to speak about the foster children who were sleeping in offices.
“It is not an acceptable practice,” said Secretary Carroll.
DCF contracts with Eckerd in Hillsborough County to place children who have been taken from abusive homes. DCF told News Channel 8 children were sleeping in offices over a six week period of time.
“When the first kid could not be placed, then we are required to notify the Department of Children and Families and that notification was in fact made,” said Lorita Shirley with Eckerd Kids.
However on Wednesday, Secretary Carroll told News Channel 8 they didn’t hear about the problem first from Eckerd.
“We actually got a note given to me by someone who had heard rumors that there might be kids sleeping in offices. So we contacted Eckerd,” said Secretary Carroll Wednesday.
Carroll pointed to a steep 40 percent increase in the intake of children in Hillsborough County over the past several months. He said the increase is the source of the issue, but reiterated, it is Eckerd’s responsibility to place children.
“Eckerd has historically been a good provider for us and we have not really had any concerns with them up until now on performance issues. That’s what we bring Eckerd there for to make sure every kid is placed appropriately and that’s our expectation,” said Secretary Carroll.
Eckerd has worked with Hillsborough County to create more beds, which has prevented kids from sleeping in offices over the past several days, but Carroll said there is more work to do.
“Am I totally confident that we are over the hump in Hillsborough? No,” said Secretary Carroll.
8 On Your Side was the first to report that foster kids had been sleeping in offices. Now, a review is underway.