For the children of Tiffany Berry over the last five years, it has been a long and unending odyssey between homelessness, shabby housing, filth, sickness and fear. And Berry, 31, brought two more children into that world in the last three years, for a total of five.
The Department of Children and Families has been making report after report about the family, the Flagler County school district has been providing ceaseless help–and alerting DCF to the older children’s deplorable conditions on many occasions, as they’d show up at Bunnell Elementary at times with roaches in their backpacks, smelling of urine, being covered in bug bites and reporting being left alone and in fear at night while their parents worked. They’d even hide from DCF officials who’d knock at the door when the parents weren’t home. There’d be times when drunkards would knock at the door, looking for Carter.
But despite a series of offers of assistance, most recently in December, through the Northeast Florida Community Action Agency, conditions haven’t changed.
Saturday morning a Flagler County school district official requested that deputies make the latest “welfare check” on the several children at the house at 72 Espanola Road, where the district had gotten a report of sewage backing up into the home.
Five children were at the house, ages 12, 11, 7, 3 and 2. Nicholas Carter is the 34-year-old father of two of the five children. Berry showed a deputy around the property, showing a collapsed and no longer functioning septic tank where waste had accumulated and continued to receive waste from the house. Inside, the deputy was confronted with “a strong smell of mold” in a house where the front portion of the ceiling, near the entrance, was missing. In the kitchen, “the floor was giving way to the bare ground below where the sewage was being discharged,” a sheriff’s report states.
The only bathroom in the house was also missing its roof, exposing rotten wet wood “covered in mold.” The tub had settled below the flooring of the house. “The flooring was gaping in some areas, allowing the smell of the waste dumped below to be inhaled,” the report states. There was “general filth” and live and dead bugs in the parents’ bedroom, shared by the two youngest children.
The children’s mother conceded that the conditions in the house were potentially harmful to the children, who she said had several times stepped in holes in the flooring. She said the children were often sick. At least one of the children has mental health issues. She blamed the landlord, who was taking the $650-a-month rent but was refusing to make any repairs while the Department of Children and Families had allegedly told her to move.
The family was poor, but not destitute–neither of social services nor of money or social assistance: Carter reported income of $2,600 a month between his and Berry’s salary, plus $900 in food stamps. The federal poverty line for a family of seven is $39,640. The family was below the poverty line monetarily, but not when food stamps are calculated.
Deputies called in health department officials to assess the unsanitary conditions of the house. A social worker deputies contacted said she’d been helping the family for years, but that it was the parents’ responsibility to follow through on suggestions.
A school district social worker told deputies she’d been working with the family since 2016, when the family was essentially rescued out of homelessness. They were living in a tent, where at least one of the children was scared to step out and use the bathroom at night. Berry turned down the offer of 12 months’ transitional housing to go live with a boyfriend in South Florida, only to be rejected from there. The family eventually ended up at the house in Espanola, which drew an abuse report to DCF as far back as 2018 over sanitary issues–and a dog and eight puppies living in the house. The school district was clothing the family then and still clothes the children now, after they show up at Bunnell Elementary in filth. Additional reports went to DCF.
On Saturday, the children’s parents–Berry, 34, and Nicholas Carter, 34, who’d provided for the family by working at McDonald’s–were both arrested and charged with felony child neglect. A Flagler County building inspector assessed the house and today was to deem it unlivable, and condemn it. Animal Control was contacted to take control of two dogs and a cat. And the Department of Children and Families took custody of the children.
“I am so happy that we were able to get these kids out of this house before someone was injured or became seriously ill as a result of the deplorable conditions inside the home,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “Between the mold, the unstable foundation, and the fact that these kids were being left unsupervised, this situation could have had a tragic ending. These two ‘parents’ have been given every opportunity to make improvements to not just their kids’ lives but their own lives that they have completely ignored.” (The quote marks around “parents” were in the agency’s release.)
“Hopefully, DCF and other agencies will help these parents and children get the help they need,” the sheriff continued. “It is unfortunate these conditions and the parent’s lack of actions deteriorated to a criminal case. Just because you may be poor you must still take care of your children.”
Both parents had bonded out by Sunday morning.
Funny how these seemingly destitute individuals quickly come up the money to bond out of jail.
Weldon B. Ryan says
Man it’s hard to say what’s what in this. Some people get so deep in their mess that they can’t see clearly to their demise. But then what? How does one truly assess these two parents. Does arresting them help? Can every resolution be retribution? And what does that say about the poverty guideline and our society. Should every resolution be retribution? I truly feel for these kids too!
This Republican county should take a notice and so should the poor that vote against their interest to see who really is hurt by their politics.
What the hell took authorities so long!!! The children should have been taken away a long time ago!!!
How can you let your kids be in a place like that. I feel bad for the kids not the mother or father.
big mama says
Being poor does not equate to living in filth. Soap is cheap. The Dollar Store carries mops and brooms. A used washing machine costs $50 and a clothesline is $1.
$900 in Food Stamps. No reason both those breeders had to be working the same shifts. This is entirely on THEM, the scumbag “landlord” who will hopefully be cited and fined I ya bankruptcy and DCF as usual, has a clear case of abuse and neglect but allows chance after chance with zero effort made by the perpetrators.
Politics has NOTHING to do with dregs of society breeding incessantly. I’ll also bet you dollar to donuts those two are felons and don’t vote anyway.
Weldon B. Ryan says
What is the root cause of this dilemma? How many more families are in this crisis? And why shouldn’t we as a society take some responsibility for a culture that accept minimum wages, service jobs and crappy politicians who sell the farm to maintain their jobs with no regard to the results. Yes these kids have it tough so far but we go back to the root then the fruit. Seems to me these parents were ducking because of the system. No physical abuse mentioned. Can every resolution be retributive? Most likely they lose pay and don’t have a home. But we can keep it topical ppl. Damn parents!
Mary Fusco says
I don’t think this has anything whatsoever to do with politics. First of all, this degree of filth did not happen overnight. Dollars to donuts, if these people were living in a mansion, it would look the same! Why did this woman think she needed to bring 2 more children into the world in the last 3 years when she obviously could not take care of the one’s that she already had? These people were receiving $3500 a month, including food stamps. Soap is relatively cheap and elbow grease is free. They could go to a thrift store and get nice clothes for the kids instead of sending them to school filthy with bugs in their belongings. Let’s put blame where it belongs. People also need to get another hobby besides reproducing.
DCF was aware of this situation back in 2018 so why was it allowed to go on this long and get where it is today? Something should have been addressed and dealt with back in 2018 not permitting it to continue two more years. Some one or the system let these children down.
Very sad for them kids.. Me and my husband use to live with them..
Sorry for the children says
Ya just had to bring politics into this Weldon. You forgot religion.
Sara Jane says
Not for nothing but shouldn’t the landlord take some responsibility? How can they be allowed to rent something like this and not make repairs. I am glad the children are safe and I agree arresting the parents don’t seem to be the answer. This county is not easy to live in if you are making an average working wage.
Youre the only person that has any sense here. I agree Yeah, The house wasnt the greatest but it was a roof over their head. Some parents cant even provide that. They had electricity so its not like they were without AC/Heat/Lights. I would think its the landlords job to fix the septic tank and its most def. The landlords job to provide a safe habitat for theyre tenants that includes a roof. Dcf gave them reccommendations but how about actual help. Like helping them find a new home. Not all people have the resources or credit to get another place. Jail is not the place for them.
I agree with you Sara Jane. There is no mention of wrong doing by the slum lord(s). Charging $650 a month for this broken, moldy and filthy sty is disgusting.
No name says
The house was “demolished” in 2010. Here’s the link http://www.fcbcc.org/PermitSearch/permit_details.aspx?id=2010070109
CB from PC says
There is no solution to this except getting these kids together and into a home with some very kind and patient foster parents.
It is going to be a long tough climb.
Regarding this “Republican County”, this is the Flagler School District and DCF which has been dealing with this case.
Neither agency is known for Republican alignment. DCF has a long history of incompetence and lack of accountability no matter who runs Tallahassee.
Why didn’t this house meet minimum housing standards? I haven’t heard about the landlord being fined. If DCF was ” helping them why didn’t they get after the landlord. I didn’t hear anywhere that these parents WERE NOT WORKING OR ON DRUGS. They were working at McDonalds. At 34 years old working at McDonalds with 7 kids how are they supposed to better their lives. Maybe that’s all they can do. Did they have a car? Flagler has next to NO PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. Should take a lesson from Volusia. So all these agencies can tell this family all the tips they want but without the tools to better themselves how can they. Were they going to HELP THEM MOVE? Probably couldn’t afford 1st last and security payments to rent another place. Sec 8 they would be placed on a wait list for months or over a year and with 7 kids? This is what needs to be done. Parents need parenting classes. Sec 8 ASAP. GOVERNMENT after school and daycare for all kids. And maybe some vocational training for the parents to get them on the right track. I didn’t hear any of that. The government waits until kids are taken away and parents are arrested so now they have arrest records so who wants to hire them now and no doubt Lost their jobs at McDonalds. This is what frustrates me. I have been caught up in government red tape and rules too. Just angers me.
I also have been homeless. The family needs help. I have children clothes. How can I give the family these things. I want to help. Please reply.
Once again, the system fails. I am sadly not surprised.
I thought a rental house has to be registered and inspected as such, specially if done thru DCF. Even for $658/month a non working septic is not acceptable…and parents are far from being neat or clean and very irresponsible. No child of the USA should be exposed to this kind of life! When our VIP rich and famous go to Davos to show off on their Annual World Economic Forum Meets, socialize and decide which other continent or country their charitable billions should fund with their wealth they should look back to help their own country children and families first!
The system failed these kids, they are bashing the parents but obviously some mental health, substance abuse or both are play. Glad the kids got out alive.
Concerned citizen says
I agree with authorities! The parents needed to be arrested and kids taken away. Why bring all these kids in the world and can’t take care of the ones you already have. Parents should have been more worried about bettering themselves then laying around making babies all day. And politics have absolutely nothing to do with why these parents are poor. We are all offered the same opportunity this is America! If you can thrive anywhere it’s here!!! I just hope the parents learn this lesson and go out and be better for themselves and those kids.
Of course it’s a Republican thing. I’m sorry, but $3,500 a month will certainly buy some birth control pills. It’s disgusting what those kids have gone through, and the irresponsible “parents” elected to bring more kids into the world that they have no clue how to care for.