JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Over the past eight years, Tammy McGuire and her family have served as foster parents to 42 local children. All of them were victims of child abuse and neglect in their own homes.
"Probably 85 percent of the time, it's a drug issue, but there are abuse issues, or neglect issues," she told Action News.
The McGuires have tried to provide stability, support and discipline to the kids who have stayed with them.
"I tell them 'it's OK, you're going to wake up here. We're going to be here for you,' and we try to help them understand why they are with us."
The Department of Children and Families says Northeast Florida needs more families like the McGuires. According to DCF's annual review, DCF received 4,800 reports of abuse and neglect in the last fiscal year.
"We're seeing the kids within 24 hours of that first report," says spokesman John Harrell.
Despite statewide cutbacks, Harrell says DCF efforts have improved recently, and Florida is now in the top five for child welfare. The child removal rate per 100 reports received in the northeast region has dropped from 12.96 in 2006, to 7.56 in 2012.
"We've made the training system better, we've cut through a lot of red tape to make it easier for these families and kids," says Harrell.
Right now, there are 8,000 foster kids in Florida; 700 in our region, and 450 in Duval County. Those numbers are down, but more families are needed.
"It's pretty easy to find foster parents and adoptive parents for younger kids, but when you talk about teenagers, it gets more challenging," says Harrell.
Harrell says teen victims are more likely to commit crimes in the future, so the community needs to pay attention now. DCF will launch a new initiative on Feb. 4 that will involve faith-based organizations, businesses and non-profits. Their goal will be to encourage more families to foster and mentor at-risk youth.
"We think the resources are there. It's about getting the community to step up and help."
Without more support, McGuire worries the cycle of abuse could continue for many years to come.
"Truly making that commitment for them will make sure they know what a family environment is like, so they won't become probably what they were."
For more information on becoming a foster family or child mentor, click here.