Children In State Care Forced To Sleep In Offices

One nonprofit program reveals children in state care were forced to sleep in offices when foster beds were unavailable.

Tampa, Fla.- More than a dozen children in the care of the state were forced to sleep in a Tampa office and teen center this month because there were no other available beds for them. This came as an alarm to child-care advocates.

However, the problem was bigger than originally thought. Eckerd officials admitted Tuesday that they used offices and other nonresidential areas to house five children over a five night span in July 2015.

In another three-month period ending in June, 38 other foster children slept in offices and nonresidential facilities, which is more than twice the amount initially reported by Eckerd officials.

Of those children six were under the age of 10. The youngest child being just 4 years old.

Eckerd is under contract with DCF, which pays $70 million annually. DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said the department will assign an oversight team to conduct daily monitoring and onsite visits to Eckerd to make sure this problem does not repeat and continue into the future.

When there is not a foster bed available for a child, procedures state that staff is required to report to Eckerd’s director of out-of-home care, an executive director and to the chief of operations. They are also required to report the case to DCF within 24 hours.

In recent cases the reports showed sometimes only some of the officials were notified. Sometimes no one was told at all.

According to Eckerd officials, Rachel Smith, the executive director of Eckerd’s Community Alternatives program, resigned Tuesday due to those failures. Smith was due to be appointed to the Blue Ribbon Commission for Child Safety in Hillsborough County, but her name was withdrawn today.

Eckerd officials said further accommodations were needed this year due to an increase in the number of children being taken into the program in April and May. HCSO said the spike comes from a rise in the number of cases reported through the Florida Abuse Hotline.

Eckerd officials say they have developed new procedures to make sure this does not happen again.