(WSVN) - As you prepare to spend Thanksgiving with your family, 22 Florida families say the state is keeping cherished loved ones away from them. They are suing Florida’s foster care system and accusing it of kidnapping. Seven’s Kevin Ozebek investigates.

Kevin Ozebek: “Is this going to be a tough Thanksgiving, a tough Christmas for you?”

Woman: “It is, always.”

To protect her grandchildren, this Miami woman does not want to show her face, but she does want you to know how she feels about the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Grandmother: “They took my granddaughter. Felt like somebody took my heart out. I didn’t understand why. She was so little.”

After the state took custody of that granddaughter, DCF took custody of two more of her grandkids.

She has seven grandkids in total from her daughter, who lost parental rights because of mental health issues.

Kevin Ozebek: “Can you explain to us and the viewers why you are eligible to have four of them but not the other three?”

Grandmother: “That’s what I want to find out as well.”

Kevin: “You don’t know the reason why?”

Grandmother: “No.”

This grandmother has passed the requirements to be a foster parent, but she still cannot get three of the kids to unite all the siblings, so she joined this lawsuit with 21 other Florida families.

They accuse DCF and state leaders of “misusing the Florida foster system to kidnap, snatch or internally divert Florida’s children from their biological families.”

Kevin Ozebek: “That’s a strong allegation.”

Octavia Brown, Community Law for Families and Children: “It is. Families are being torn apart. They’re being devastated, irreparably harmed from the actions of DCF.”

Brown is one of the attorneys leading the lawsuit. She used to be a DCF attorney.

Kevin Ozebek: “As a former DCF employee, was it hard to file this lawsuit against DCF?”

Octavia Brown: “No, not at all.”

Under the law, when a child is removed from his or her parents, the preference is to place the child with a relative as long as that relative meets all requirements. But this lawsuit accuses DCF of sometimes favoring unrelated foster parents over eligible family members.

Taniyah Williams: “I’m always going to feel like it’s a neverending nightmare.”

Taniyah Williams is another one of the plaintiffs, who spoke to us from Jacksonville.

Taniyah says she was wrongly accused of abuse. Her daughter was placed with a foster family.

Taniyah’s parents and in-laws tried to get custody but failed.

Taniyah Williams: “None of them have any criminal backgrounds. This was our first time ever, our family name being in the eyes of DCF, so my daughter is currently five years old. I don’t know where she is. She’s with another family.”

DCF tells 7News it “does not comment on pending litigation,” but “keeping families together is of the utmost importance…” When that’s not possible, “placements and services are in the best interest of the child.”

Grandmother: “As long as I have blood in my body, I am going to fight for them.”

Because this Miami grandmother believes it’s in the best interest for all of her seven grandkids to be together with her.

Kevin Ozebek, 7News.

CONTACT 7 INVESTIGATES:
305-627-CLUE
954-921-CLUE
7Investigates@wsvn.com

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