TAMPA — Patricia Hunter has opened her home to children for more than 20 years.
As a foster mom, she's dealt with bed wetters and fussy eaters, kids who need endless hugs and others who don't want to be held.
Until last week, she hadn't experienced having one of her children delivered to the wrong home.
Hunter, 61, was the foster mom of the 4-year-old girl dropped at the wrong house by a Camelot Community Care driver on Jan. 23. That night, she said, she called the lead child welfare agency to report that the girl had not arrived. Nonetheless, she feels she has been indirectly blamed for an incident that was not her fault.
"This has become a nightmare," she said. "I got a bad rap for sitting here waiting for my kid."
The child, whom Hunter knows as Ty, was dropped off at RaSheeda Yates' east Tampa home about 7:45 p.m. The driver had put the wrong address into his GPS and was later fired for the mistake.
Two miles away, Hunter was at home caring for two other foster kids and was waiting for Ty. She had a plate of spaghetti ready.
Ty would normally arrive between 7:30 and 8 p.m. after spending the day at a day care center. The minivan carrying her and other kids typically has to make a lot of stops to drop kids off at different foster homes, Hunter said.
As the evening went on and Ty did not arrive, Hunter wondered if she was visiting with her biological mother or her siblings. Visits are sometimes scheduled on short notice, she said.
When it got to 9 p.m., she began to get worried. She waited another 30 minutes and then called the placement office of Eckerd Kids, the lead child welfare agency in Hillsborough County.
They thought she already had the child and said they would look into it, she said.
Finally, some time after 10 p.m., a Tampa police officer knocked on her door and told her that Ty had been dropped at the wrong house. She was told the Camelot driver was new to the job.
"It was scary, unnerving to me," she said. "Anyone can make a mistake but this is dangerous."
She threw a house dress over her pajamas, loaded her two other foster kids into her black pickup truck and went to get Ty.
Just days after the incident, Eckerd transferred Ty to a new foster home.
Even before the girl was misplaced, Hunter said she had already requested that Ty be moved. The girl, who was separated from her siblings, was very distressed and needed to be in a home where she could get more one-on-one care, Hunter said. The girl cried every day and would frequently crawl up on Hunter's lap, wanting to be held.
The girl's initial reluctance to go home with her is common among foster kids, Hunter said.
"They look at me as the bad guy because I can't give them to their mom," she said.
Eckerd declined to comment on why the child was moved to a different foster home.
Yates, the 37-year-old mother of four who looked after Ty for several hours, received a thank-you card from Eckerd for her good deed.
She said her heart went out to the little girl who is pining for her mother. She considered adoption, but is aware that the mother, who is homeless, is trying to regain custody.
"I told her I would help her as much as I could," Yates said.
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at email@example.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.