Category Archives: Central Florida Region

“For Rent”

Guest post by an Orlando Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation (MBI) Undercover Agent.

mbi logoIn September 2011, a 16 year old girl came to an Orlando hotel room to meet a man for sex.  The girl was a runaway that was seductively posed and advertised “for rent” on an online prostitution site.  The man was an undercover vice agent at the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation (MBI).

The girl was wearing a dirty white tank top, pajama bottoms and flip flops.  She was holding her arms tight to her chest when she walked into the hotel room and went directly to a corner chair and barely said a word.  She was a scared little girl about to meet an adult man for sex in a dingy hotel room.  It was the most disturbing thing I had ever seen and the image of the little girl walking into that room frightened and alone, will go to the grave with me.  I could not believe this was happening in a major city, a family oriented tourist destination designated as one of the happiest places in the world.

As a cop, I knew I had failed to grasp how pervasive human trafficking was.  I had assumed it was going on somewhere else and it was someone else’s problem.   Everything changed for me that day and I knew we had to significantly increase awareness of this hideous crime of human trafficking to first responders.

This girl was recovered and turned over to her father and mother.   Until that day, this was an average teenage girl from a nice residence in an affluent neighborhood.  She had parents that loved her, cared about her and were involved in her life.  She was not the typical trafficking victim.  But like most girls we deal with in these types of cases, she was caught up in the intrigue and mystery of the life. She was tired of being vanilla, frustrated with her parents, and enamored with material things. She made poor choices, met up with manipulative and persuasive people who tricked and deceived her, and before she could realize what had happened she had crossed that line and now found herself having sex with strangers for money.

Since that day, MBI has worked more than 50 human trafficking investigations, recovered nine girls who were forced into prostitution, and conducted countless interviews of commercially sexually exploited girls, mostly runaways.  Human trafficking is no longer a foreign concept to law enforcement officers in Central Florida.

Gifts from the Heart for the New Year

Guest post by DCF Central Office Communications Director Carrie Proudfit.

Gifts for Jay from Physical Therapy Specialists - thank you!

Gifts for Jay from Physical Therapy Specialists – thank you!

When Mark MacGregor, owner of Physical Therapy Specialists in Central Florida, reached out to me he had one simple question – who can we help this holiday? My first thought was Jay*, an Orlando resident who was immediately in need of help.

Jay is no stranger to the Adult Protective Services Team in Central Florida. Case managers in the area regularly check on the senior, now in his 80s, who requires the use of a wheel chair for mobility.

This year, the holiday was expected to be especially difficult for Jay after he was served with an eviction notice – effective Dec. 26, the day after Christmas. The home was beyond repair. So with just a short couple of weeks before the move date, adult protection case managers went to work, looking for the best possible living arrangement for the senior. Originally, the plan was for him to move in with a loved one, but when that fell through just days before Christmas, adult protection had to come up with backup plan. The set back was coupled with some of Jay’s ongoing medical needs requiring him to be hospitalized. While adult protective service team members worked on Jay’s basic needs, a complete stranger, with the help of a few little elves, hoped to help make this holiday just a bit brighter for him.

Mark MacGregor and his partners, who own several physical therapy clinics in Central Florida, have made it their mission to help others through their work, but this holiday they wanted to reach a bit beyond the daily job that they do for others. MacGregor and his family, team, as well as patients, decided to forgo the traditional Santa exchanges among the office. This year they were looking to make a difference in the life of another, perhaps someone who hadn’t even asked. Word spread at Physical Therapy Specialists and response from the team as well as patients was amazing.

While DCF’s Orlando Adult Protective Services Team worked to secure new housing for Jay, Physical Therapy Specialists took on those extra little things to make him more comfortable: new socks, new clothes, food, and all the other daily necessities that might require trips to the store, which isn’t so easy for him. In addition to the items, a note, man to man, from Mark MacGregor – expressing thanks for the opportunity to give Jay a hand up, grateful to be in a position to help. PTS is but one example of how many businesses are now incorporating philanthropy into their portfolio.

Today, after being released from the hospital with no possessions other than his hospital gown, the DCF team delivered the gifts from PTS. Now Jay, with a new home and new belongings, feels the promise of a New Year and has hope for the future.

*name changed for privacy reasons. 

Determination, inclusion and love

Guest post by Kathryn Dentato, case worker at Kids Central.

AshetynI met Ashetyn in April of 2011 when his case transferred to the Adoptions Unit. He was playing basketball in the driveway of his foster home when I pulled up. Tall and clean-cut, he greeted me respectfully and took me in to meet his foster mother. We chatted for a while and Ashetyn shared his love of sports, especially football. He had moved to the foster home in January after the season ended and was eager to start practicing for the summer workouts.

Ashetyn’s enthusiasm for football was not enough to keep him on the right path, however, and his foster mother was concerned he was using drugs. Ashetyn also began to show a violent side which led to the involvement of DJJ. Over the next few months, we spent a lot of time together to complete his Teen Court requirements. Ashetyn began to open up, sharing some of his history during the hour-long drives between his placement and the courthouse.

Along with his brother, Ashetyn was adopted as a toddler by his foster parents. However, the adoption did not last. As you can imagine, stability was an issue for the boys. By the time Ashetyn was a teen, he told me he had been in at least a dozen group homes, moving frequently because he got into fights with other kids.

Because the jurisdiction of the case was in another state, the adoptive parents’ rights were not terminated until 2011. Ashetyn had a difficult time adjusting. He had just been moved from the non-relative home where his brother lived and was in a new foster home. This is when I met him. Though he appeared stable at the first meeting, it was only a matter of weeks before I heard that Ashetyn had turned again to violence and drugs. Charges were filed and he became involved with DJJ and the Teen Court.

After one confrontation, Ashetyn acknowledged that he had a problem with drugs and volunteered to enter a residential rehabilitation program for teens. Over the course of five months, Ashetyn struggled to overcome his addictions, but persevered. He graduated the program successfully and became a role model for other teens at the facility. I was so proud of him for working through the challenging program.

Following his discharge from the rehab facility, Ashetyn wanted a place to call home but was adamant that adoption was not the path for him. He agreed to meet the Hetland family because he thought living with a family with  three teenagers would be a good idea and he wanted freedom from the foster care system.

Both Steve and Jennifer Hetland were determined to help Ashetyn develop a permanent connection to an adult and adjust to living in a family again. Within a few weeks, Ashetyn had moved to their home. Steven and Jennifer included his brother, who had aged out of foster care, and worked through additional DJJ requirements and school issues after he was caught with drugs at school. He tested Steve and Jennifer’s stamina, but they continued to be loving and firm.

The Hetlands’ consistent tough love approach and keeping Ashetyn accountable for his actions as a member of the family slowly won his heart. Ashetyn agreed to adoption with the family, and finalization occurred on his 17th birthday. In the year since, Ashetyn has made even more strides. He has completed his GED and is now enrolled in Withlacoochee Technical Institute in the Auto Mechanics program. Ashetyn has a family who loves him and accepts him for who he is, all the while helping him to become all he can be.

Being Present in Fatherhood

Guest post by Brian Durr, Coach at Boot Camp for New Dads class in Seminole County.

Durr Family

The Durr Family

My name is Brian Durr. My wife Karena and I have an 11-month-old little boy, Riley. To me, being a responsible father does not mean I have to be perfect. It comes down to three things: protecting, providing and being present.

I would do anything to protect my boy from what the world will try to teach him. As a dad, if I don’t own up and instill the values that I believe are important for him, then he will get them from what he sees others do and say. I will take my chances with what I teach him. He will come to know that I will bend over backwards to provide for him.

To me providing is way more than just bringing home a paycheck. It means providing time out of my busy schedule to be there for him and to listen to him. It also means showing him how to love and respect a woman both in the home and out in public. There will be times he needs a male role model for guidance, and I will be there for him whether he wants to talk or just hang out.

Out of these three (protecting, providing and being present), the one that jumps out the most is being present. It is vital for a dad to be present in a child’s life. I work in an elementary school that has very low-income students. A good majority of our students grow up with no father and it is very evident. They tend to act out and lack the life skills vital to a successful life.

Since I began teaching the Boot Camp for New Dads class in Seminole County I always start the class with a question: What do you remember about your dad growing up? I always end the class with this question: What do you want your middle school kid to say about you as a dad when they get to your age? The reason I ask these two questions is because the answer almost always boils down to the fact that the men remember their dad being present or not present both physically and emotionally. They almost never mention all of the stuff they got as gifts.

For me, my dad was coaching or watching my games cheering me on. He was not perfect, but he modeled the life skills of integrity, honesty and staying true to my word that have stuck with me to this day. He cheered me on in whatever I chose for myself. If I made a mistake, he disciplined me instead of trying to be my best friend. That is what a good dad does for a child they love. For me as a father, I plan on instilling in my son the values and beliefs that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Fatherhood: Option or Obligation?

Guest post by Bryan Nelson, a father of two, foster parent, and Program Coordinator for Boot Camp for New Dads in Orlando. The boot camp is a part of Healthy Start Coalition of Orange County’s initiative to create and reinforce strong families.

Bryan and his son

Bryan and his son

In a Presidential Fatherhood Roundtable event in Orlando last February, I had the opportunity to ask Miami Heat All Star Dwayne Wade a simple question, “What would you say to a young dad who feels he has the option instead of an obligation to father his child?”

His answer was simple:  “Once you create a child, your options are gone. It’s your job to step up and be the parents they need. Kids don’t ask to be here and we’re not going to have all of the answers every time. There are gonna be tough days … but so what, there’s tough days on the court, I don’t quit. If I’m missing shots, I don’t quit. I go to the gym and figure it out! So why would I quit on what’s most important in the world? I’m building future leaders!  Why would I quit on someone who looks just like me, someone who acts just like me? Why would I quit on that? I brought them into this world and it’s my job to make sure I’m there every step of the way.”

It’s a refreshing breath of air to hear someone with influence, popularity and fame to tell it how it is.

One expecting father at the Boot Camp for New Dads workshop I teach said, “Chivalry isn’t dead, fathers have simply stopped teaching it!”

He couldn’t be more right. Our children depend on the standards and expectations we set for them to guide them through the tough teen and young adult years.

When a child’s father is not in the picture and not a positive role model, mom is left to pick up both roles. Moms can do it, but it would really help her to have two adults to parent the kids. Two people to walk the floor at night with an infant – and switch off when the baby’s crying becomes unbearable. Two people to alternate picking up the kids from school. Two people to clean up the house. The potential for two incomes or, if the mom is able to stay at home, another option for child care.

Orlando is ranked #58 out of the top 101 U.S. cities with single-mother run households at 46.7 percent. This is a growing problem in our society. FATHERHOOD IS NOT AN OPTION! Far too many males feel they have a choice.

I am proud of the 962 fathers who took our Boot Camp for New Dads workshop in the past two years. These men join many other great guys in Florida who stepped up and took on the father role. But I always wonder – why aren’t the other fathers stepping up? Are they scared? Do they just not care?

Some people say the men who don’t have any interest in sticking around probably won’t be good dads anyway. The popular idea in society these days is that dads are dumb, don’t want to be involved and if they are, will only screw up, so why force them? The facts however couldn’t be more opposite.

Father absence spurs significant increases in high school drop-out rates, poor school performance, abuse/neglect, teen pregnancy and even overall health.  The facts are clear; children with involved fathers are healthier and do better in school as well as socially.

For the children who are not able to be with their fathers due to death, abuse or neglect, I encourage males in the community to help these kids grow by becoming strong, positive role models. I also encourage the entire community to emotionally support the mothers who are navigating parenthood alone. It is true that it takes a village to raise a child, but fathers play a crucial role in the future of Florida’s children.