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State to investigate unlicensed childrens homes accused of abuse, neglect

In response to a Tampa Bay Times investigation, state officials have launched a wide-ranging review of unlicensed children's homes, some of which have been caring for kids for years with no oversight.

The review has identified seven "boarding schools" with no apparent credentials — no state license, no religious exemption and no other state-recognized accreditation. The Times had previously uncovered four of those facilities.

In addition, state investigators now say more than a dozen foster children have been illegally placed in unlicensed homes since 2001. Officials continue to look for more illegal placements and are trying to determine why they occurred and how much taxpayer money was spent.

Department of Children and Families officials said they will work with homes to try to get them licensed or accredited. But homes that do not earn credentials could be taken to court, DCF officials said.

DCF started its review of unlicensed homes after the Times began asking about more than 30 religious facilities that have cared for children with no state license or monitoring. Many of those homes operate legally by earning accreditation from a private, nonprofit group under a religious exemption created by the Legislature in 1984. Others operate with no recognized oversight at all.

Click here to read all the stories in the Times investigation and to learn more about the homes under investigation.

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