TAMPA -- 10News WTSP is learning why the 33612 ZIP code area of Tampa has consistently had the highest rate of removal of children in the county according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Child Protective Investigations Division. One hundred twenty-nine children have been removed from their homes so far this year. Spokeswoman Cristal Nunez says the ZIP code has been the highest in the county going back several years.
Moses Brown was abandoned at birth at a Plant City hospital. He says, "My mother could not take care of me." Brown grew up with a soft spot in his heart for children in the system. He adds, "I was fortunate to be adopted." He says he was given the name Moses , 'because we got you out of the bulrushes.'
Brown is a pastor and a member of the advisory board for Eckerd Community Alternatives Hillsborough which is the lead agency for child welfare and foster care services in the Bay area. He says he's experienced the system first hand and is concerned about why so many children are being removed from their homes.
Major James Bradford, head of the Child Protective Investigations Division for Hillsborough County, says, "Most of the removals are for threat and harm, domestic violence, and substance misuse - that's alcohol, drugs and that type of thing."
Bradford says his investigators look into those type of reports. There have been 12,353 of them made in Hillsborough County alone so far this year. He says the last thing they want to do is remove a child from their home unless the child is in danger. He adds, "Our goal is to reunite the family not separate them."
Brown believes there are likely many reasons for the uptick especially in the 33610 ZIP code which has had the second highest rate of removal of children from their homes for the past three years.
Bradford showed us how they're trying to solve the problem in their office. He says they're trying to make sure that families in distress get the resources they need to keep their kids out of the system.
Bradford says, "They have office space with us right in the middle of where the CPI's sit -- so when there's issues and concerns -- you know the transfer of information -- we can go right to the source and say I have this family -- what can you do?"
Brown adds, "If someone didn't do it for me -- God knows I don't know where I'd be."
Meanwhile there's a need for foster care parents and Guardian ad Litems in our area.
Tabitha Lambert says, "The Guardian ad Litem Program gets involved after children have been removed from their homes. Not a lot of people are able to be a foster parent, but many could be a Guardian ad Litem and be a voice for a child. Studies show that children with a Guardian ad Litem volunteer do better in school, have fewer placement disruptions, and navigate through the child welfare system faster than a child with no Guardian ad Litem."
Lambert adds, "Out of 680 volunteers, we only have 12 volunteers in the 33612 ZIP code."
For more information on Voices for Children of Tampa Bay (the local non-profit supporting the 13th Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program), please click here.
Anyone wanting more information about becoming a foster parent or any other information can visit www.eckerd.org/foster or call 1-800-554-4357.