DCF program helps families reunite

- Each time Jean Roy hugs his son, he holds him a little tighter. He knows just a few months ago these hugs didn't come as easy.

"It was a struggle. It was scary. Challenging. Very challenging at times," he said.

In February of 2015, the Department of Children and Families took his son, Hunter, and daughter, Isabella, away from him. Roy had been in trouble and was battling a drug addiction.

"It was horrific. It was terrible. I cried a lot," he said.

But he wasn't going to let his children go. He worked with the court system and Eckerd Kids to turn his life around. And Friday afternoon, with several other families in the same situation, Roy celebrated being reunited with his children.

Last year in Hillsborough County nearly 1,000 families were brought back together in a similar fashion. This year, that number is already at nearly 800.

"We always hope, if we can keep the kids safe and keep them at home, the trauma of removing them from their families and placing them elsewhere stays with them for a lifetime, so we always want to get kids back if it's in their safety and well-being," said Jody Grutza.

Jody Grutza, the executive director of Eckerd Hillsborough, said families - whose children have been removed but are taking steps to bring them home - work with counselors, take parenting classes, and make sure their home is 100 percent fit to welcome children back.

"Every case is different. It varies based on what the challenges were, what the issues were, that brought the children into care," said Grutza.

While it may take months or even years before parents can reunite their children, Roy said the dedication and hard work pays off.

"It doesn't matter where you're at, time passes. No matter how long it is, get in the solution. Stay in the solution and do the next right thing," he said. 

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