Sunday, September 23, 2018
News Roundup

Driver for child welfare program leaves girl, 4, at the wrong Tampa home

TAMPA — RaSheeda Yates was taking a shower Monday evening when her 14-year-old daughter banged on the bathroom door and shouted that they had an emergency.

Yates emerged still dripping wet to find a 4-year-old girl watching TV and hungrily munching on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

A man had dropped her off and left, said Yates' daughter, who had decided to feed the small stranger.

The little girl couldn't tell Yates the man's name or her mother's last name. She said she lived in a blue house. She didn't mention she was in foster care.

It wasn't until several hours later, when the biological mother saw a Facebook posting about a found girl, that Yates and Tampa police solved the mystery of where the child with black ringlets in her hair belonged.

The girl, who was on her way back from day care, should have been taken to her foster home on E North Bay Street in east Tampa. Instead, a driver for Camelot Community Care mistakenly left her at Yates' home, which has the same house number as the foster parent's but is on the similarly named E North Street, about 2 miles north.

The driver delivered the child to the door, which was answered by Yates' daughter, about 7:45 p.m. He asked if he had to sign anything but left when the child ran into the house, Yates said.

He has since been fired, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Camelot Community Care is one of the agencies subcontracted by Eckerd Kids, the agency hired by DCF to run child welfare in Hillsborough County.

"We were absolutely outraged when we learned of this incident and so thankful that this young girl safely reached her intended destination," said DCF spokeswoman Jessica Sims.

Camelot president and CEO Michael DiBrizzi said the driver incorrectly programmed his GPS and then mistakenly left the child with the family. All Camelot staffers have been retrained on procedures for dropping children off and procedures have been put in place to prevent a repeat, he said.

"Camelot Community Care places the safety of children first and foremost, and the events that occurred were inexcusable and not reflective of our policies for the safety of children," DiBrizzi said in an email.

The driver's GPS error meant the girl could have been dropped anywhere in a northeast Tampa neighborhood that has 50 known sexual offenders within a 1-mile radius, some convicted of sex crimes against children under 12.

As luck would have it, the girl was dropped into a warm, welcoming home.

A mother of four, Yates was baffled at the turn of events but took the youngster to her heart.

After calling the police, she took care of the girl who had arrived on a cool night dressed only in shorts and a tank top beneath her camouflage hoodie.

The child seemed happy at first. Since she was still hungry, she was given cereal. Yates' daughters painted nail polish on the girl's fingers and toes.

Eight police cars turned up at her home as police tried to find out where the girl lived. There were no missing children reports, Yates said.

The girl cried when police questioned her, burying her head into Yates' chest.

Yates decided to try herself and posted a picture of the girl on Facebook and urged her friends to repost it.

"This little girl was dropped off and left at my house about 10 minutes ago, and we don't know her … if you know her please inbox me," the post read.

It was eventually seen by the girl's biological mother, who was able to reach Yates by calling her cousin. The mother wanted to know why Yates had her child. Yates passed the call to police.

Once police knew the girl was in foster care, they contacted Eckerd Kids.

A social worker was summoned and arrived by 11:30 p.m., Yates said. It wasn't until about 11:45 p.m. that the foster parent arrived in her nightclothes. The girl cried, said she didn't want to leave and asked for her mommy, Yates said.

"I didn't want to send her back to a place where people didn't know she was missing," Yates said. "She's only 4 and didn't deserve any of what she is going through. She needs love."

Yates carried the girl to the foster parent's car and promised she would see her again, a pledge she desperately wants to keep but isn't sure she can.

Eckerd officials declined to comment on details about the incident or on what steps will be taken to improve child safety.

"At our urging, Camelot Community Care has instituted new procedures to ensure this will never happen again," said spokeswoman Adrienne Drew. "This is unacceptable behavior and is contrary to our mission, which is to protect our children and our families."

Yates still has a picture of the girl on her phone and has tried to get information about her well-being.

"You were that baby's angel tonight," Yates' friend Ericka Lewis-Johnson wrote on her Facebook page. "Bless you for being that mother and caring enough to keep her safe."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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