News

  • Mar 31 2021

    Vernon Ellinger honored as the latest Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero. Joshua House super volunteer recognized for his philanthropy.

    by Bridget Robertson



    Tampa FL -   
    Vernon Ellinger was honored at the Tampa Bay Lightning game on Tuesday, March 30th, as the latest Lightning Community Hero.  The program recognized grassroots heroes whose efforts help others less fortunate and strive to make a positive impact on the greater Tampa Bay Community.  The Hero is also presented with a $50,000 grant on their behalf to benefit the charities of his or her choice.

    Joshua House has been a vital part of the Tampa Bay community since 1992, providing a safe home with needed therapies for children with complex traumas. In 2020, the future of Joshua House was jeopardized, as the organization that previously was gifted the property and program design decided to sell it and move in a different direction. Friends of Joshua House (FOJH) Foundation stepped in and saved Joshua House by incurring the debt to purchase and restore Joshua House. This included the task of extensive renovations needed to improve the safety and sustainability of these 28 year old homes and park-like campus.

    When he saw that Joshua House was in need, Vernon sprung to action. With the Executive Director working around the clock to present options to the FOJH Board, Vernon used his considerable business expertise to clarify the viable options and potential outcomes. Then, literally, the day after FOJH closed on the purchase of the campus, Vernon immediately began making a big impact in a variety of ways. His first order of business was quite literally, the business of getting Joshua House "to revenue" in his words, and ready for the children to return.

    From that day forward, he has spent 4-5 days per week, 6 hours per day, for 7 straight months on the property: cleaning, painting, scrubbing, moving furniture, assembling things, disassembling things, and really just accelerating the complete rehab of this special place, and it couldn't have been done without him.

    Congratulations to Vernon Ellinger, Joshua House would not be where it is without you!


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  • Feb 20 2021

    Joshua House Needs More Community Support to Complete Renovations

    by ALESE UNDERWOOD

    LUTZ, Fla. – For nearly 30 years, Joshua House has been a safe haven for abused, neglected, and abandoned children.

    The facility has been closed for months for renovations, and about $125,000 in donations is still needed to finish them.

    So far, the activity room is almost complete.

    “In here we do sewing classes, we do budgeting classes, we do music classes, drum circles,  and everything you can possibly imagine that might enrich the lives of a child who has been abused, abandoned, or neglected,” Executive Director DeDe Grundel said.

    Around the corner, you’ll find an updated learning center with computers, a library, and study space.

    “It’s essentially where the tutors from USF College of Education come to help our kids remediate and help them catch up academically,” she said.


    When you walk outside, you’ll see all five homes on the property are being renovated from top to bottom.

    They are about 3,200 square feet with modern and comfortable decor for up to 12 children at once.

    “I think the most important thing about Joshua House is that the healing starts at the door. It starts with where they live. The rooms – all of this – is part of a therapeutic process, and it’s part of their continuum of care. So for them, it’s a matter of not just finding a safe place to stay, but also a healing place,” Grundel said.

    Joshua House is hosting a large bowling fundraiser this weekend to help raise money to finish the renovations. 



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  • May 04 2020

    Future of the Joshua House looks promising after Foundation purchases building

    by Jillian Ramos

    TAMPA, Fla. — The Children's Home Society of Florida agreed to sell the Joshua House back to the Friends of Joshua House Foundation after much back and forth discussion.

    After the sale is complete, the Foundation will re-open the Joshua House to care for abused, abandoned and neglected children in Florida's foster care system.

    "This was a great opportunity for both organizations to go in the direction they truly wanted to serve," says DeDe Grundel, Executive Director of the Friends of the Joshua House Foundation.

    Grundel hopes the sale will be complete by August. The Foundation will then have to go through a licensing procedure again with the state. They will begin to accept children after that.

    Joshua House's mission is important as about 4,300 children are sheltered annually in the foster care system in just Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties.

    It also does not help 60% percent of the foster families recruited and licensed each year are lost for whatever reason.

    The agreement between the Children's Home Society of Florida and Friends of Joshua House Foundation comes with a price tag.

    The Foundation is now trying to raise $3.4 million, a large portion of that money will pay for the purchase of the buildings.

    "It's a bricks and mortar kind of campaign so once that debt is satisfied and the startup costs are behind us we can move forward with the enriching the services everywhere with more and more of what this community needs," explains Grundel.

    They know raising money will be no easy task and it will take time.

    "Friends of Joshua House Foundation have taken on the responsibility of entering into a loan in order to achieve the first step which is to purchase and transfer those rights to us in order to continue," explains Grundel.

    The last child left the Joshua House on March 31.

    And for Grundel, it's sad to think about but she is confident the future is bright.

    "I dream of tumble weeds running across the property but soon it will be soccer balls and basketballs and footballs again so we just need to get there," says Grundel,

    To help cover the $3.4 million cost, the Foundation is now accepting donations. Click here to find out more about how you can help.


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  • Apr 14 2020

    New York Yankees mourn the passing of Henry G. "Hank" Steinbrenner

    by MLB
    We mourn the loss of Hank Steinbrenner and thankful for his support over the years of Friends Of Joshua House. Memorial donations in his name will help continue our mission.

    The New York Yankees mourn the passing of General Partner and Co-Chairperson Henry G. “Hank” Steinbrenner, who passed away earlier today at his home in Clearwater, Fla., from a longstanding health issue. Mr. Steinbrenner was 63.

    “Hank was a genuine and gentle spirit who treasured the deep relationships he formed with those closest to him,” said the Steinbrenner family. “He was introduced to the Yankees organization at a very young age, and his love for sports and competition continued to burn brightly throughout his life. Hank could be direct and outspoken, but in the very same conversation show great tenderness and light-heartedness. More than anything, he set an example for all of us in how comfortably he lived enjoying his personal passions and pursuits. We are profoundly saddened to have lost him and will carry his memory with us always.”

    Born April 2, 1957, and raised in his birthplace of Cleveland, Ohio, Mr. Steinbrenner was the eldest of four children by former Yankees Principal Owner George M. Steinbrenner III and his wife, Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann).

    Mr. Steinbrenner was in his 13th season as a General Partner of the New York Yankees and his 11th season as Co-Chairperson of the club. Along with Managing General Partner / Co-Chairperson Hal Steinbrenner, Hank was responsible for overseeing all areas of the club’s business and baseball operations, and was directly involved in player negotiations, long-term player recruitment goals and overall club strategy.

    He spent many decades passionately involved in the breeding, raising and racing of horses, serving as a Vice President and Director of Bay Farms Corporation since 1985 and as a longtime member of the board of the Ocala Breeders Sales Company.

    Mr. Steinbrenner attended Culver Military Academy and Central Methodist College in Missouri. Over the course of his career, he held additional roles as chairman of Minch Transit Company and vice president of Mid-Florida Hotels Corporation. In 2000, he coordinated a multi-year partnership with Gwynn Racing to field a Gwynn/Steinbrenner top fuel Yankees dragster on the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Drag Racing Tour.

    Joined by his son George Michael Steinbrenner IV, Mr. Steinbrenner reentered the world of competitive racing in 2016, contributing to the formation of Steinbrenner Racing. After participating two seasons in the Indy Lights developmental circuit in 2017 and 2018, the group announced a partnership with Harding Racing in September 2018. The new team began racing in 2019 as Harding Steinbrenner Racing, competing on the IndyCar circuit with George Michael as the youngest team owner in IndyCar history. Just two races into its first season in IndyCar, the team took the checkered flag on March 24, 2019, at the Circuit of Americas in Austin, Tex., as George Michael became the youngest owner to win a race in the history of the IndyCar Series. At the conclusion of the year, the team announced it was uniting with Andretti Autosport to race under the Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport banner in 2020.

    At the time of his passing, Mr. Steinbrenner served on the boards of the YES Network and Gold Shield Foundation and was involved in a number of not-for-profit causes and children’s charities in New York and Tampa Bay, including The Joshua House, St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, Gigi’s Playhouse Tampa, The Children’s Dream Fund and the New York Yankees charitable foundations.

    He is survived by four children, daughters Jacqueline and Julia, and sons George Michael IV and John, one granddaughter, Anabel, and his siblings, Jennifer, Jessica and Hal, and their families.

    During this time of mourning, the family respectfully asks for the privacy needed to grieve this tremendous loss.

    In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to Friends of Joshua House Foundation (www.friendsofjoshuahouse.org); P.O. Box 26333, Tampa, FL 33623, 813-263-3469) or to a charity of one’s choosing.

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  • Jul 26 2019

    The Myers Home Team, Keller Williams launches their 4th Annual Giveback Campaign.

    by Bridget Roberston


    Team leader and Realtor Jordan Myers and associates Gary Burden and Bill Yingling are donating 100% of the commission from the sale of a home to a Tampa Bay area non-profit. Public voting will determine the recipient of this year’s donation.

    PALM HARBOR, FL (July 19, 2019)— Exemplifying the core values of the largest real estate franchise in the world, the Keller Williams Myers Home Team Market Center is launching the 4th Annual Giveback
    Campaign, which will award a local non-profit with 100% of the commission from the sale of a home. Local Non-Profits will be competing for the donation through a voting poll that is open to the general public.

    “We believe in supporting the community where we live and work,” said Jordan Myers, team leader of Keller Williams Myers Home Team. “It’s our way of saying thanks to our friends, neighbors and clients.” 

    Voting is open from August 1-21, 2019. You may vote up to once a day, for your favorite organizations. Voting links can be found on the Myers Home Team Website at https://www.themyershometeam.com/

    Last year’s recipient was Tarpon Springs Leadership Conservatory for the Arts, they received $9,000 from team leader Jordan Myers. The donation was used to send the Highschool band to a National competition. This year’s donation amount will be determined at the close of the home.

    Along with the online voting poll, two events will be held in support of the campaign to bring awareness to the local non-profits. An open house will take place August 10, 2019 at 6815 Twelve Oaks Blvd., Tampa, FL
    33634, and a Mix and Mingle event on August 20, 2019. Location TBD. The Media and participating Non-Profits are encouraged to attend both events.

    To learn more about The Myers Home Team Keller Williams and their Annual Giveback Campaign, call Tiffany Butts, Marketing Director at (727) 222-3113.
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  • Jun 14 2019

    Tampa Tarpons’ philanthropic week provides inspiring moments of joy

    by Ernest Hooper




    TAMPA — A 13-year-old, his red T-shirt perfectly matching his exuberance, threw out the first pitch.

    Other kids trotted out to the field with the players, standing as the national anthem played. Before the game started, they clutched freshly-autographed baseballs, smiled at guys just a few years older than them.

    It’s another day at the baseball game. Steinbrenner Field welcomed youth to get a taste of the professional baseball life their minor leaguers enjoy every day, but the moments of joy the Class A Tampa Tarpons provided for the Joshua House kids hold greater meaning than the typical player-kid interaction.

    Consider how these youths arrived at Joshua House, a safe haven for abused kids in suburban Tampa. The typical child enters the facility after bouncing from one foster home to another, sometimes as many as 20 or 30 homes.

    They show up with all their belongings packed in a garbage bag, and they don’t own a lot. So much has been given to them – love, promises, stability – only to be taken away. Yet they do arrive with plenty to unpack: emotional upheaval from years of dysfunction, nightmarish neglect and unimaginable stories.

    “They come from families in crisis,” said DeDe Grundel, executive director of the Friends of Joshua House Foundation. “Then they end up in foster care and their lives become restrictive to keep them safe.”

    At the field, however, the restraints give way to fun. They toy with Blue, the Tarpons mascot, eat hotdogs and chase foul balls. Grundel said some had never attended a game, never stood for the national anthem, never seen someone throw out an honorary first pitch.

    “That’s why it’s so necessary for them to have these life-enriching experiences,” Grundel said. “Having a little joy, getting a chance to be carefree kids is part of their stabilization.”

    This is the mission of the Tarpons’ philanthropic week of giving dubbed Helping Others Persevere and Excel. They delivered on the HOPE acronym for Joshua House and four other nonprofits this week, wrapping up the effort on Thursday night.

    Every New York Yankees affiliate and the major league club craft an outreach week that allows players to touch lives and connect with the community. The Yankees initiated the program in 2009, and its affiliates adopted the approach in 2012.

    Of course, we expect such efforts from the athletes at the sport’s highest level. Many deliver, creating their own foundations and contributing to worthy causes. Sometimes, Yankees on rehab assignments with the Tarpons like Didi Gregorious volunteer to visit kids at Tampa General.

    Yet in some ways it’s more impressive to see minor leaguers reaching out to kids in Tampa. Who would blame the Tarpons’ Glenn Otto, a 23-year-old righthander from Spring, Texas, if he chose to focus more on developing his pitches, outdueling other aspiring stars and pursuing his big-league dreams. Otto, however, not only helped welcome the Joshua House kids to Steinbrenner Field, he joined teammates in visiting with them at the residential facility.

    “This was my first HOPE week with the Tarpons, and it’s something I’ll always remember,” Otto said. “In a career where so many other people sacrifice so much to help us fulfill our dream, it was nice to be able to give back and show the kids at Joshua House the love and generosity they deserve.”

    Tampa Tarpons pitcher Shawn Semple plays with one of the children at Joshua House. Photo courtesy of Tampa Tarpons.

    It went that way all week. On Sunday, they welcomed unaccompanied youth from Starting Right, Now. On Monday, players volunteered at Trinity Café. On Tuesday, they spent time with the Joshua House kids and on Wednesday and Thursday, the Tarpons granted tours respectively to staff and volunteers from Gracepoint and Voices For Children.

    In the process, the Tarpons not only hope to build a sense of goodwill among its players, but inspire fans to engage in meaningful ways.

    “The one thing everyone has to give is time,” Yankees general partner Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal said in a prepared statement. “If we all took a moment to help others, our world would be such a wonderful place.”

    Each of the nonprofits that took part in the Tarpons’ HOPE Week received a monetary donation, but the investment it made in kids, in volunteers and in the makeup of the participating players will likely lead to a greater dividend.

     “Being around those kids and hearing them laugh and seeing them smile was definitely refreshing,” Otto said. “I look forward to my next opportunity to make an impact in the community.”

    At least for one day, Otto and the Tarpons gave the kids of Joshua House something else to pack in that garbage bag: pleasant memories.

    That’s all I’m saying.

    Contact Ernest Hooper at ehooper@tampabay.com. Follow @hoop4you.


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  • Jun 13 2018

    Lacey Smith and The Fashion Movement - True Community

    by Bio Article By Angel Beth

    You know that expression, accessories make the outfit? Well it’s true. Take a plain black outfit and dress it up with a gorgeous necklace and stunning earrings, and you take your look to a completely new level. Go from pretty to glamorous with just the right accent piece. Lacey B. Smith, a fashion guru and founder of “The Fashion Movement”, appreciates the need for such details. His company started Haute Accessory Week in 2011, an annual event to bring designers accessory pieces to the public and showcase them in a runway event.

    The event hosted by “The Fashion Movement” at the Galleria at USF, Tampa Florida, in February 2018, and was a huge hit. Supporters enjoyed shopping both before and after at the many vendor booths set up outside the event in a Boutique format. The show itself was exhilarating as gorgeous men and women glided down the runway with necklaces, earrings, bracelets, handbags and at one point carrying gorgeous painted canvases that all popped off their black attire.

     Lacey felt that offering a platform to accessory designers and artists bridged a gap in the industry and we agree. This year was the 7th showing of Haute Accessory Week, and with a unique twist they incorporated live presentations which offered an interactive and edgy experience for the audience. With on stage body painting and live canvas painting, the audience was able to see the creative process from start to finish.

    Lacey B. Smith is a mastermind. His mother was a seamstress and blossomed a passion for fashion at a very young age. He started volunteering in fashion and found this love only grew. He grew up in Jamaica and moved to the States in his teens; then he began exploring his passion. Even when life took him towards a path in Finance, he always made his way back to the fashion industry. And that is how his company “The Fashion Movement” was born, from a magnetic drive pulling him always back to this innate passion.

    Events like the Haute Accessory Week were born out of “The Fashion Movement”. The idea of creating platforms for designers to market their creations continued to grow. Designers flocked towards his classy and prodigious events. Word of mouth spread, as bios and samples of work were sent to “The Fashion Movement” with hopes of gaining entry into one of their shows. When a show reached capacity of required Designers, Designers set up as vendors alongside the event, still allowing their creations to be seen and sold.

     Lacey also has a huge heart for community. Not only in bringing to stage artistic works but also for raising funds to support local charities. The Fashion Movement created “Bowties & Clutches®” an annual Gala to raise funds for Joshua House, a safe haven for abused, abandoned, and neglected children. “Bowties & Clutches®” has grown to also include an annual Charity Golf Classic also benefiting Joshua House.

    Lacey and his team at The Fashion Movement never stop creating innovative ways to produce and market fashion events allowing the public access to superior products. He enjoys promoting brands and helping to establish them in our fashion community. His goal is, with the right marketing, to imprint the artistic world onto each of us, and give us access to beautiful and fashionable works of art. With “The Fashion Movement”, he has changed Tampa Bay by continuously bringing garment & accessory designers, fashion stylists, and creative visionaries to our door with top quality events that cannot be compared. With such elegant and respected events, we look forward to Lacey B. Smith and “The Fashion Movement’s” next presentation.

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  • Apr 19 2018

    "Sweet Dreams" donation

    by Bridget Roberston



    In April, the Tampa team of BBVA Compass attended the annual Child Abuse Awareness Luncheon to benefit Joshua House. One team member, RSS Sammi Marlis-Ronshausen, supports Joshua House in a very special way. She makes pillowcases for the children who live at the Joshua House. No two are alike. Each one is as unique as the children they are given to. Sammi makes 48 pillowcases each year and has been doing this for the last 5 years.  She donates them for the children to keep. Each one represents a child’s precious life and the new hope they have.

    Sammi also makes these pillowcases to another charity called Case for Smiles. She makes and donates an average of 65 to 80 pillowcases each year that are distributed to local children’s hospitals. These organizations do not have a budget to purchase supplies so Sammi donates her time, talents, and treasures with a happy heart. Sammi is making a difference in the lives of the children of her community.

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  • Sep 09 2017

    Storms force tough calls for group homes

    by Christopher O’Donnell - Times Staff Writer

    Foster children evacuated from South Florida join those in Lutz. Such moves have many factors.

    LUTZ - Almost 40 Hillsborough foster children are expected to ride out Hurricane Irma at Joshua House, a group foster home in Lutz.

    On Friday, they were joined by another 14 foster kids, five staffers, three family members, a dog and two cats - evacuees from another foster home in Brevard County.

    As Hurricane Irma moves closer to a direct strike on Florida, group foster homes across the state are weighing whether they should ride out the storm or evacuate. For officials who have to make that decision, it's a complex calculation.

    Children's Home Society of Florida, which runs 10 group homes, has already evacuated foster homes in Miami and Brevard counties.

    'You're dealing with kids who have already been through so much … and then have this unexpected hurricane.'

    ElizaMcCall-Horne, Children's Home Society of Florida executive director With Miami seemingly in the cross hairs of Irma, there was no choice but to evacuate residents of the group home there. Children and staffers were relocated to a group home in Palm Beach County that is farther inland.

    It was a tougher call to evacuate its Brevard group home, which is farther north from where Irma is anticipated to make landfall but is on low-lying land and close to the coast.

    It is not yet known if any more group homes will have to be evacuated.

    'We do a lot of communication across the state, assessing and evaluating the weather,' said Children's Home Society executive director Eliza McCall-Horne. 'We are looking at other areas and watching the storms.' The weather is not the only factor the group has to consider. Finding accommodations for children and staff members is a challenge in a state where the foster care system is already overburdened. There is also concern that evacuating will create more anxiety for children already affected by child abuse, neglect or from being removed from their parents.

    'You're dealing with kids who have already been through so much trauma and grief and loss and then have this unexpected hurricane and them not understanding what is happening,' McCall-Horne said. 'We have to stay attuned to their needs.' The majority of children in foster care stay with foster parents or relatives. This week, judges in most child welfare circuits issued temporary orders allowing foster parents to take children out of state if they are evacuating.

    About 27 foster children are likely to stay throughout Irma at the Lake Magdalene group foster home in Carrollwood, Hillsborough County officials said.

    Staffers at Joshua House began preparing for storms months ago after forecasters predicted a busy hurricane season, said DeDe Grundel, executive director of the Friends of the Joshua House Foundation. As part of their licensing requirements, group homes must submit a comprehensive disaster plan to the Florida Department of Children and Families.

    The 11-acre campus, which houses about 36 children, was built with its own generators and a 2,500 gallon water reserve tank.

    This past week, the Joshua House staff stocked up with additional food and 35 cases of water to ride out the storm. But they have also filled vehicles with gas in case they have to flee.

    Most of the Brevard evacuees who arrived Friday will be housed in the Publix House, a 12bed building that was recently renovated. Airbeds also are being provided.

    The focus for the staff has been to keep children calm and not let anxiety build. Therapists are available for children who feel stressed.

    'Sometimes it's best to keep the TVs off and not let the barrage from the news keep hitting them,' Grundel said.

    Contact Christopher O’Donnell at codonnell @ tampabay. com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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  • Aug 06 2016

    More kids pulled from homes in Hillsborough than anywhere else in Florida

    by Christopher O’Donnell - Times Staff Writer

    The children are taken from their homes because parents fight or use drugs, or because of child abuse, neglect and mental illness. Others are given away by parents who admit defeat at handling teenagers.

    These sad tales occur more in Hillsborough County than anywhere else in Florida.

    In four of the past six years, the county has led the state in the number of children plucked from their parents or guardians.

    That peaked in the 2016 fiscal year when investigators with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office removed 1,672 children, the highest number in more than 10 years. That’s almost 450 more than Miami-Dade County, home to roughly 1.3 million more people than Hillsborough.

    For some, the numbers suggest that the county at times removes children unnecessarily. Others speculate that Hillsborough’s large low-income population, scattered over urban and rural areas, makes it difficult to help with social services.

    Whatever the reason, the result is an overburdened child welfare system.

    Almost 40 children ended up sleeping in offices and other make-do accommodations over a three-month period this spring and summer because state contractor Eckerd Kids could not place them in foster homes.

    And only 55 percent of the roughly 3,300 children in the state’s care in Hillsborough are assigned a guardian ad litem because there simply aren’t enough volunteers. Elsewhere in Florida, 80 percent of children in care are assigned a guardian.

    That can often mean Hillsborough children wait longer for counseling or medication, said Tabitha Lambert, circuit director for the 13th Circuit guardian ad litem program.

    It can also mean a longer spell in the child welfare system before reunification with family or a permanent adoption.

    “There’s not enough foster homes,” Lambert said. “There’s not enough resources to care for the increasing number of kids that come into the system.”

    • • •

    New reports of children removed because of abuse and neglect arrive every day at the Edgecomb Courthouse on Twiggs Street in downtown Tampa.

    Monday’s docket in a small courtroom on the third floor brought six new cases, each awaiting a shelter hearing. All six reports involved either domestic violence or drug abuse.

    Hillsborough Circuit Judge Jack Espinosa approved removal in them all.

    In most counties, reports from the Florida Abuse Hotline of children at risk are investigated by staff of the care agency contracted by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

    Hillsborough is one of only six counties where investigations are handled by the local sheriff’s office. The others are Broward, Manatee, Pinellas, Pasco, and Seminole.

    Of those, all but Seminole removed children at a rate higher than the state average in the 2016 fiscal year. Hills­borough was the highest of those: On average, children were taken from homes in 14 of every 100 investigations. Statewide, the rate was 8 in 100.

    Hillsborough’s Child Protective Investigations Division includes 75 investigators. They are not sworn deputies but take a 12-week training course and then additional on-the-job training to get certified by DCF.

    Capt. Jim Bradford, deputy division commander, agrees that the county’s removal numbers are high but said only children in danger are removed.

    He points to how seldom judges deny removals as proof his staff is getting it right.

    In 4,173 cases since 2011, only 66 times has a judge told investigators they got it wrong. Only one removal out of 458 this calendar year was reversed.

    “The last thing the Sheriff’s Office wants to do is to remove a child from his family,” Bradford said. “We go to great pains to keep that family intact.”

    Juvenile dependency attorneys who represent parents note shades of gray.

    There’s no question that removal is the right action in most cases, said Tampa lawyer David A. Dee. But there are borderline cases where children could have remained in the home with regular monitoring and additional social services.

    The cases that cause him the most heartache are when single parents, usually mothers, are jailed for crimes not directly related to parenting, like driving with a suspended license. The state takes custody of the children unless they have relatives or friends who can take them.

    In the poorest neighborhoods, some parents have no relatives or friends willing to take a child. Even the willing will not be given the child if any adult in the home has a criminal record.

    “Dependency court is an economic court; most of the people have no money,” Dee said.

    Tampa lawyer Norman Palumbo, whose clients include parents and grandparents, said the state faces a balancing act between keeping families intact and keeping children safe.

    Right now, the emphasis leans more to keeping children safe, he said, but that means some children are unnecessarily taken away from their home, their parents and their possessions .

    Once in the care of the state, they may be there for a while.

    Eckerd Kids sets a goal of getting 60 percent of children returned to their families or placed permanently with foster parents within one year of removal.

    Over a 12-month period ending in June, it failed to meet that goal even once and in May and June also failed to meet the state target of permanently placing 40.5 percent of children within one year.

    “I think they’re playing safe. I don’t think they realize the harm they’re doing to the kids,” Palumbo said. “Even when you err on the side of caution, it’s still an error.”

    • • •

    As Florida’s fourth most populous county, Hillsborough is always likely to be among the counties with the highest foster child population.

    But the county has long been regarded as an outlier by child welfare professionals because the number of removals was disproportionately high, said Don Dixon, who spent 24 years working for DCF and rose to be district administrator.

    Economics may be a factor. More than 23 percent of children in Hillsborough live in poverty, according to U.S. Census estimates. And Hillsborough County ranked 98th out of the nation’s 100 largest counties when it came to income mobility for poor families, a 2015 Harvard University study found.

    Children of all races end up in foster care in Hillsborough. The majority this year came from east Tampa and an area west of the University of South Florida, according to reports from the Child Protective Investigations Division. But removals also occurred in rural and suburban areas such as parts of Brandon and Progress Village.

    Plenty of tax dollars are spent to prevent children from meeting that fate, including about $3.22 million for Healthy Families, a program to educate and work with pregnant and new mothers for up to five years.

    But participation is voluntary, and many families shy away from allowing support workers into their homes.

    Hillsborough’s size and population also makes it a challenge to reach every parent.

    Hospitals deliver about 17,000 children each year in the county, more babies than are born in some states.

    “Hillsborough County is a complex county,” said Jane Murphy, executive director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Hillsborough County. “We’re urban; we’re rural; we’re suburban and we have all the issues that come with that.”

    Dixon, the former DCF administrator, said the vast majority of removals made during his time at the agency protected at-risk children.

    His best theory is that the removals are a consequence of bad behaviors, traits and choices among parents.

    The county has ranked among the worse for the number of domestic violence arrests, drunken drivers, substance abuse, and even the number of people who smoke, he said.

    “My speculative conclusion: Unhealthy communities produce unhealthy results,” Dixon said.

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