January 11, 2012 at 4:14 AM EST - Updated June 26 at 6:47 AM
PORT ST. LUCIE, FL (WFLX) - For the second time in a week, children have been removed from a home in St. Lucie County after investigators found filthy conditions inside.
From the outside, the home on Chapman Avenue in Port St. Lucie looks fine, but inside police say it was a different story. Officer Steven Brown was there and called it one of the most shocking cases in his nine years on the force.
"When I walked in, the smell was so overwhelming. I was in there for about two or three minutes just to observe everything, and holding my breath about half that time," said Officer Brown.
There were dirty dishes with moldy food, bugs, and more than fifty piles of dog waste.
"The first thing I saw were several mattresses piled up. The stains were seeping over to the sides of the mattresses," added Officer Brown.
The mother, 26-year-old Victoria Hinchcliff, was arrested and charged with three counts of child neglect involving her nine, six, and five-year-old children.
Just last week, a Fort Pierce couple was arrested for failing to properly care for their two, three, and four-year-olds. In both cases, someone stepped forward to alert authorities. In the Hinchcliff case, it was a school teacher who noticed one of the children was coming to school dirty and not wearing any underwear.
Florida has the highest rate in the nation of children who die from abuse at the hands of their parents; that's why organizations like CASTLE on the Treasure Coast are so important.
For more than three decades, CASTLE has worked to prevent child abuse by working with families free of charge to teach strong parenting skills, so children have safe and nurturing homes. Doug Borrie, CASTLE's assistant executive director, says there are a number of reasons families get in these situations.
"It could be poverty, it could be failure to look for services, maybe a fear of approaching services, maybe shame," said Borrie.
Borrie says what's crucial is that if the family doesn't step forward that someone else, a teacher, neighbor, or friend will.
"If you see something, say something. You may be the only thing between that child being hurt and not being hurt," added Borrie.