PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Foster parents in Pinellas County are speaking out about concerns they have with the state's child welfare system.
Nathan and Amanda Carlson are licensed foster parents who receive foster children from Eckerd Connects and other agencies.
For the last two and a half years, the couple has continued to open their Pinellas County home to foster children. At any given time, they could have up to two foster kids in their house. They currently have three children, two of them adopted through the system.
The Pinellas County couple foster kids because they want to help. First and foremost their goal is to help the children who come from dangerous homes.
"Rampant drug and paraphernalia on the floor, no air conditioning or heating, no doors, adults are being sex trafficked in order to pay for their drugs," Nathan explained.
Next, they want to nurture those who need love. Amanda Carlson has had many sleepless nights taking care of drug-addicted babies.
“When we first get those, there’s no such thing as sleep in our house. They’re crying, they’re in pain," Amanda stated.
The couple is welcoming to any foster children who need love and support. Unfortunately, the childcare system for foster kids isn't as loving. Some foster kids within Eckerd Connects were reported to be sleeping on the floor in their administrative offices. Robin Rosenberg who works as the deputy director for Florida's Children First says that's inexcusable.
"Eckerd knew what it was undertaking," Rosenberg stated.
Rosenberg said there is a lot of work to be done with child welfare services in Florida. Right now, some kids have no place to sleep.
"Right now each side of the Bay is in a crisis. When you have 60-70 children on each side of the bay who don’t have a home - children living in offices - that’s a full-blown crisis," Rosenberg added.
The Carlson's said there are issues with the state's child welfare system.
Number one, it needs more funding.
"It all comes back to those two things, staffing and funding," Amanda stated. Funding in many aspects, including resources for the biological families.
"And when it comes down to funding … are we giving those bio parents the funding for services to transition back into the home?" Amanda questioned.
Number two, it needs more staffing.
“The case managers are stretched way too thin and that’s because of the way the system is set up," Nathan said. He went on to explain case managers are overloaded with cases.
"It’s supposed to be a 16 to 1 ratio, but we’ve never had a case manager with fewer than 35 cases. That’s because there isn’t enough money to hire case managers," Nathan stated.
Number three, and most importantly, Florida needs more foster parents.
"Everything is getting worse and there are so many more children coming into care. We need more foster parents. Even though the system looks like it falls and breaks, we need more foster parents," Nathan explained.
Rosenberg said the system needs to take better care of the foster parents involved.
"The way you get more foster parents it by treating the ones you have well," Rosenberg added.
Currently, in the Tampa Bay area, there aren't enough homes. “Especially right now in the Bay area, there’s not enough and the right kinds of homes to give every child what they need and that is a catastrophic failure," Rosenberg added.
If you would like to become a foster parent, visit DCF's website.