Author Archives: arodwrites

About arodwrites

Writer, digital strategist, traveler from Miami, Florida.

When You Have Room at Your Table: A Foster Mom’s Story

From Huffington Post

BY: Rachel Globe

Single and a school teacher, this young woman bravely opens her home to foster care children because she has room at her table.

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He was four days old when Julie got her first phone call that there was a child in need of a home. She had just recently completed her certification courses, taking the process step by step, still slightly in shock as to what she was potentially committing to. A single woman on a teacher’s salary — surely there must be better homes to place these children in? Julie had offered to take any child that needed a home. While most families may be on the foster to adopt track, or only want to foster older kids that could be more independent, Julie had the flexibility to open her home to those that may be hard to place.

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Zeke had spent the first four days of his life wide awake in a hospital bed. He was born addicted to meth and opiates, so the doctors had kept him in the hospital to monitor his withdrawal from the powerful drugs. Zeke’s mom was a sex worker and his Dad was her pimp. They were living in a hotel downtown, sharing the room with another sex worker who also happened to be pregnant and gave birth to her baby in that same hotel room.

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“Zeke’s mom was on too many drugs” Julie shared. “She wanted to love her son, but the drugs were too powerful. The saddest part was getting her info — they interview the parents to get info. She was a foster baby herself. She loved music, wanted to be a singer. Zeke was her only child that they knew of.”

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The day that Julie got the phone call about Zeke, she was having her weekly Saturday brunch with her Mom. She had nothing: no crib, no diapers, no clothes, no bottles, not even a car seat to get him home. She said yes, and that day a seat was filled at her table (a seat that was hurriedly purchased at Target along with many other necessary items for a first time Mom without time for a baby shower). Not knowing if she would have Zeke for a day, a week, or for life, she simply said yes, and opened her home.2014-08-20-5_Julie-thumb

“His dad was a gang member.” Julie reflects on the last time she saw his Dad. “He had cigarette burns on his face from growing up. He was waiting for me on the steps to the court one day. I thought he was going to kill me. But he asked if I had family to support Zeke if I died. I said yes, I do. He expressed his desire to see the cycle of violence in his own life end. Told me his story. And that was it. I never saw him again. That was his closure.”

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The first thing you notice about Julie’s home is its warmth, as though you’re instantly transported to the beach. Her sweet and no-longer-the-center-of-attention labrador retriever, Hudson, greets you at the door when you arrive. Walls are covered in family photos and reminders of the love that abounds in this home. Julie has Zyler on her hip, unloading groceries from the car while Zeke and Zoe are inside playing. Zoey is dancing while Zeke plays the drums on any object he can find that makes noise when it’s hit.

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“The Foster system is very pro family reunification. They provide the birth parents with a lot more resources than they provide the foster parents — which is the way it should be,” Julie reflects on her experience. “But somehow it’s not breaking the cycles. I wish that more efforts were given to prevention — more community help. More awareness of drugs, or prostitution. Part of what they’re doing better is trying to prevent kids from going from one home to another. They’re looking for more permanent homes for kids, which is helping.”

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Zoey started living with Julie when she was a year and a half. Born at 4 lbs, the doctors had told her birth mom to bring her back in a couple of weeks for a checkup. She was never brought back, and no one ever followed up with her. It wasn’t until a year and a half later that someone took Zoey to a neighborhood clinic because she wouldn’t stop crying.

At 18 months she weighed 16 lbs and wasn’t even on the growth charts. They thought that Zoey was on drugs because she was so unresponsive, and her little body was covered in scabies. Julie received a phone call, asking if she could take Zoey. Recognizing that she was a single Mom with a newborn already in her home, she asked them to call her back in 24 hours if they couldn’t find a placement. A day later, Julie got the second phone call that no one would take Zoey because her scabies were so contagious. Another seat was filled at Julie’s table that day. Zoey was diagnosed with ‘failure to thrive’ by the doctors, having never been fed solid food and unable to open her eyes in the sunlight because of a lack of outside exposure.

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“As a teacher I’d seen foster care kids come through school with no resources. I don’t think I’m the solution, but I did want to do something. I think the foster community needs more awareness of the great need for foster families, resources… I would talk anyone I know into doing it. If they’re calling me — a single Mom on a teacher’s salary — to take a fourth and fifth kid? That shows you the lack of people and resources.”

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Zyler was born addicted to meth so the doctors took him right away. His Mom was in and out of jail for a long time — still is. She sells drugs and prostitutes herself to be able to afford them. Julie doesn’t know as much about his background, but acknowledges the deep connection between the drug trade and sex trafficking. She’s still fostering Zyler (after having adopted Zeke and Zoey) but believes that she’ll adopt him as the court learns more of his background.

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“I’ve learned that I’m stronger and braver than I thought. I had to face the fear of being single. Not being able to do it on my own, being left with these kids with no resources or help or anything. How will I deal with their issues? My fear was that I wouldn’t be able to handle them effectively like they deserve to be handled and treated. But I learned that there’s not a limit to how many kids I can love. It’s doable. You just make it work.”

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Fear seems to be the main hurdle for families thinking about fostering. There isn’t a lot of education about the needs of foster care families, or the resources available to them. It’s a hard system to navigate. There are respite resources available to foster care families, for example, but this service is rarely public knowledge while families are considering opening their homes to foster children. While there are social workers assigned to the children, there are no social workers assigned to the foster families themselves. There’s no overarching system that ties all of the resources together — it’s a system run by amazing people — but no one to tie it all together or provide a resource guide.

A ‘typical’ foster child, as Julie outlined, never truly knows where home is until they’re either adopted or placed in a foster family willing to foster them until they’re able to be reunited with their family. They push people away, knowing they are probably going to get rejected anyways. It’s a never ending cycle when there aren’t enough families to foster. Cultural barriers commonly provide another source of fear for families looking to foster.

Typically, families are much less afraid to take younger children than older ones. It’s difficult to predict the needs that a child will have or what life for a foster child is like — it’s so based on their situation — but Julie expresses the desire for it to become more normalized. Many foster care youth end up trafficked when they bounce between homes and don’t have a guardian invested in them and mentoring them. The need for a permanent person willing to provide a home for these youth is a great need.

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“I desire to keep their culture intact. Both black culture and foster culture. Both are part of who they are. Integrating the culture of fostering has already deeply rooted. We go to foster events, we’ll foster dogs, we’ll volunteer in the foster system as they grow up… fostering will be a part of our lives.”

Julie expressed her desire to be completely open with her children. Zoey is just starting to notice the skin color difference, and will start school soon. Without a Dad in the home and being exposed to children who are in traditional families, she knows these questions will begin to pop up as other kids ask questions and begin talking. But when they do ask, she plans to be completely open.

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“My hope for these three is that they grow up to realize that it wasn’t a bad thing they were adopted. I hope they’ll want to help the system. And realize that they weren’t given up. They were born for a purpose and a meaning and their parents just couldn’t do it. They are just as wanted and loved, even though they came from a different place — their birth mom — they came to me — their heart mom. A single mom without a lot of money. I hope I can give them the resources to do what God put them on this planet to do.”

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Rachel’s Note:

I have known Julie for almost a decade and have for a long time wanted to tell her story. It’s difficult to write about the foster care system from a narrative perspective while holding an awareness to the tension that exists between the foster care system and keeping children with their families. I am always an advocate for rehabilitating the entire family, and think that blood is strong and so important in creating bonds and connections and safety. I thank Zeke, Zoey and Zyler’s families for their bravery and sacrifice. Julie’s adoptions are all open, and she hopes that the Z’s will be able to have a relationship with their birth parents and siblings.

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This article originally appeared in Love Matters of Huffington Post. To view the original article, click here.

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Why You Can’t Cook Your Way to a More Enjoyable Family Dinner

From Huffington Post

BY: Charity Curley Mathews

Sometimes people say to me, “you must be such a good mom.” They think I’m rocking this parenting thing, probably running circles around them, because I make such a big deal out of cooking for our kids. Guess those people have never seen my laundry room.

Cooking dinner, like every single part of parenting, is just a choice. It takes time, money, equipment and a bit of know-how. Like working out or saving money, it’s not easy and you have to make it a priority or you probably just won’t do it. But there’s also the diplomatic part, which can either make or break the whole thing. A recent study about the stress of family dinners conducted by sociologist Sarah Bowen, spurred a particularly vexing Slate article, titled no less than “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner”. “The main reason that people see cooking mostly as a burden is because it is a burden,” complains Slate’s Amanda Marcotte. “It’s expensive and time-consuming and often done for a bunch of ingrates who would rather just be eating fast food anyway.” Sound familiar?

After Slate covered it, many others agreed, picked up where she left off or rebutted. Then The New York Times came out with their own version. But each piece danced around the same issue: “Everyone dealt with what Ms. Bowen called the “burden of pleasing others,” says NY Times writer Anna North. “Middle-class mothers felt that offering new foods was crucial for developing their kids’ palates — even if the process sometimes leads to food fights. But the process was time-consuming and stressful. Ms. Bowen and her co-authors write that “we rarely observed a meal in which at least one family member didn’t complain about the food they were served.”” Bingo!

It’s so emotionally charged, this idea of making dinner. “Good moms” cook dinner, right? But when you don’t feel appreciated in your own home, by your own people, it’s so discouraging. Have you ever felt so fed up with the whining that you just couldn’t stand to make one more chicken dinner? I sure have. Sometimes I wonder, worry really, if using so much energy to cook takes away from other parts of our family life, like you know, making it through bath time without screaming at anyone. My husband isn’t a big eater and he’s not even home for weeknight dinners most of the time anyway. There have been times when it’s just me and three fussy kids pushing their plates away or yelling, “BUT I DON’T LIKE PEAS!” the second I set their food in front of them. Don’t forget the baby, who may or may not be crying her way through dinner prep on any given night.

When I heard myself saying things like, “Maybe I just won’t cook anymore if no one is going to appreciate it!” I knew I needed to revamp the way we do dinner. I enlisted my husband’s help to make these kids understand how much work this is, and why I do it for them. To the oldest three, I’ll ask, “What would you say if I crinkled my face when you showed me your drawing earlier? If I said, ‘Oh, gross! I hate red flowers on pictures. You KNOW I don’t like that. Make me something else!'” They laugh, but the point is taken. Complaining about the food is simply not allowed at our table anymore. Consequences are going to one’s room until they can come back and join us again, with a kinder attitude. It’s a pain to enforce because the result usually involves a kid yelling even more but in the end no one has ever, not once, missed dinner altogether.

The new family rule is the first thing anyone says at dinner if they want to say something is, “Thank you!” We also introduced a thumbs-up, thumbs-middle, thumbs-down policy and now leave all criticisms at that. But under no circumstances is it OK for anyone to say something is bad, gross, yucky… Not from kids, not from parents. Not OK. Figure out a better way to express what you want for dinner NEXT TIME and see if that’s doable.

Not cooking because of time or expense is one thing. Not cooking because everyone is rude about it is another — and something you really can change. Even if you’re totally worn out. Especially if you’re totally worn out. This can be turned around.

Take heart, moms, if you are cooking dinner even a couple nights a week, you are doing the right thing. And dads, please help. Even if that means you always clear the plates, or always unload the dishwasher, just do something that moms can count on every day, especially moms who are preparing and serving dinner without you on most nights. Got a dad who cooks? Please reverse this advice.

Making dinner and eating it together is important and it does produce great results. The reasons why I make cooking real food a priority are many. From nutrition to simple Home Ec principles (how to shop, cook and budget) to something at least as important: eating this meal together gives us the chance to check in with each other, to talk, laugh, sing, and pray together. You can’t do that if everyone’s too busy complaining about dinner. Like biting or wetting the bed, talking smack at the table is behavior that needs attention. Teaching our kids to eat nicely (an ongoing lesson if there ever was one) has been at least as hard as doing the actual cooking, but at least as important.

Otherwise, I agree with the folks at Slate. Why do it?

Charity Curley Mathews is the founder of Foodlets.com: Mini Foodies in the Making…Maybe, where this post originally appeared.

To view the original article on Huffington Post, click here.

Foster Child Writes Inspiring Essay, Topic: “Who Am I”

One of our foster children recently wrote an inspiring short essay for school. The following are his words.

My name is Erik, in Swedish Erik means forever strong and it shows because I’ve been put into foster care and throughout most of the time I’ve managed to maintain a positive and friendly attitude towards everything even though I am still going through a rough time, I still manage to make great decisions in life and focus on my education.

I see myself as a mature, intelligent, caring, strong, honest, responsible young man yet I’m shy. I’m a very caring person. I feel others pain and am willing to help anyone though a hard time. Growing up without a father, I had to mature quickly and become the man of the house which made me the dependable and strong man I am today.

One of my passions is music, my favorite genre of music is rock and I love playing my guitar. So much that I no longer watch TV but instead practice my guitar whenever I have the chance. I look up to many great guitarists like Slash and Tom Morello. I just find it very entertaining to play my favorite songs on guitar, it’s my favorite hobby. Another passion of mine is animals; all animals are different and appealing to me. My favorite animal is a dog because of their loyalty and unconditional love towards humans. At one point of my life I wanted to become a dog trainer. I would watch a lot of animal shows learning about many different animals around the world. I also enjoy learning about history and reliving the journey that real people have gone through also learning from the many great mistakes many have made.

In the next five years I would like to myself in college learning many things and concentrating on my education as it is essential for a great career and future. I would also like to see myself helping out my community and family in any way possible, and of course I would also like to see myself doing very well in guitar.

The many steps I can take to ensure that a have the future I want is to concentrate on my education and get great grades, the kind of grades that impresses others and makes your mother and father proud to be your parents, and to continue volunteering and practice my guitar every day.

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DCF leader says child welfare at a ‘pivotal time’

From the Daily Commercial

By MARGIE MENZEL THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

ORLANDO – The leader of Florida’s embattled Department of Children and Families opened the annual Child Protection Summit on Wednesday with a pledge not only to save lives but to “protect the light” in children’s eyes.

“A lot of times, we say we save lives as if the only thing we do is prevent child fatalities,” department interim Secretary Mike Carroll said during the event in Orlando. “To me, preventing child fatalities is a given. It’s an absolute must. …But that’s not what I mean. When I say we save children, it’s about protecting the light inside of them and helping it to burn brightly.”

Carroll also acknowledged the intense scrutiny he and his colleagues received after a series of child deaths, calling this “a pivotal time in the history of child welfare in this state.”

Carroll was the third head of the department in three years to welcome child-welfare professionals, foster and adoptive parents, advocates, judges and law enforcement officers to their annual gathering.

The first, former Secretary David Wilkins, resigned in July 2013 following a wave of media reports about children known to the department who had died from abuse or neglect.

The second, former interim Secretary Esther Jacobo, led the department through the 2014 legislative session, when lawmakers passed a sweeping child-welfare reform measure and approved the funding to hire hundreds of new child-protective investigators. She stepped down in May.

Now Carroll, a plain-spoken man with a Boston accent who rose through the department’s ranks over 21 years, is charged with putting the new law and new money to work.

“I think the governor and Legislature sent a pretty strong message that we in Florida can do better, we must do better, for the children and families we serve,” he said. “And I think they’ve also put their money down on the table and said, ‘We’re willing to support that.’ ”

Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature approved $47 million in new funding for child protection in this year’s state budget, although critics pointed out that much of it simply went to replace earlier cuts.

Major items included roughly $13.1 million for 191 new child-protective investigators at the department and $8.1 million for the six county sheriffs’ offices that provide such investigative services.

Thanks to the new money, Carroll said, the average caseload for child protective investigators will drop to 10 early next year, when the new hires are trained.

“You can’t do this work with high caseloads,” he said.

Carroll also pointed to the statewide rollout of a safety methodology to help child-welfare workers make better judgments about particular children or families. He praised the use of data to better identify the children most at risk. He said the implementation of a “Rapid Safety Feedback” process “allows us to interject some of our best, some of our most seasoned and experienced folks, into cases where critical decisions are being made around child safety.”

Carroll also said the department’s “perceived lack of transparency” would be corrected by a new website to track child deaths and make them public.

He vowed to recruit “an army of the best foster parents in the world. …They do more to love and heal our kids than any service we can provide.”

And he said the state must step up its focus on substance-abuse and mental-health issues in order to better protect children.

“If we can’t effectively treat folks who have chronic substance-abuse issues, we can’t protect kids who live in those homes,” he said.

To read the original article, visit dailycommercial.com.

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Notice for Foster Parents that Received a Bill from the Department of Health

Dear Our Kids foster parents,

If you have received a “Notification of Fees Due,” or invoice from the Florida Department of Health in Dade County, in the amount $100, please read the following carefully:

• Do not pay the amount due. We’ve contacted the Health Department and have been informed that the letter was sent out incorrectly.
• Please contact Our Kids (305-455-6000) immediately if you have been told that this bill is due for a prior home inspection by the Department of Health.
• We encourage anyone who received the letter to call the number listed on the invoice and write down the name of the person you get in contact with.

We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. We appreciate your understanding of the situation. We are here to assist you, please feel free to contact Our Kids and ask to speak to a licensing representative if you have any questions.

Sincerely,
Stefanie Wickers, MSW
Director of Licensing

Our Kids Board of Trustees Welcomes Jackie Gonzalez as new President & CEO

Jackie Gonzalez

Jackie Gonzalez

From the Board of Trustees:

We are thrilled to announce Jackie Gonzalez, Esq, will be joining the organization as the new President and Chief Executive Officer of Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe effective September 2, 2014.

Gonzalez is a highly experienced child welfare professional, and previously spent the last 13 years at the Children’s Home Society of Miami, most recently serving as its Executive Director.

“Jackie’s experience and extensive knowledge of Florida’s child welfare system makes her the perfect person to lead Our Kids and continue to build upon the last decade of work,” said Sandy Bohrer, Our Kids Chairman of the Board of Trustees. “We look forward to her leadership as we continue to innovate our approach to improving the child welfare system.”

In the last 27 years, Gonzalez has championed child welfare advocacy in Florida. She successfully worked in a myriad of areas in the industry including providing leadership in case management, establishing prevention/intervention programs, forming strategic alliances with industry partners, Overseeing budgets and interfacing with leaders at the local and state level.

“In a short amount of time, Our Kids has set the standard for child welfare in Florida and nationwide and I am honored to have been selected to take on the leadership of the organization,” said Gonzalez. “I look forward to building on its success and to continue acting as a champion for children in our community.”

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DCF Works With Agency To Relieve Miami Foster-Care Overflow

From CBS Miami

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The Florida Department of Children and Families is working with the agency that oversees child welfare in Miami to resolve issues that have included an overflow of kids in the area’s foster-care system.

DCF Interim Secretary Mike Carroll on Friday said the department is collaborating with Our Kids, the lead community-based care agency for Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, after a surge in the number of children coming into state care.

“I think that system of care has experienced some significant challenges over the past year,” Carroll said. “And some are directly attributable to the number of kids coming into the system.”

In a June 9 letter to Our Kids’ interim CEO Joyce Taylor, Carroll said he “continue[d] to receive reports regarding lack of appropriate placement options for children in out-of-home care, resulting in children being housed in hotels, offices and emergency group home placements.”

The agency has seen a 44 percent increase in children coming into foster care and now serves about 33 percent more children than it did in June 2013, according to Our Kids spokeswoman Kadie Black.

“This isn’t just happening in Miami,” Black wrote in an email. “This has been happening in several circuits throughout Florida during the last year, although we are seeing one of the sharpest increases in Miami.”

Florida’s troubled child-welfare system has been the focus of intense scrutiny by the Legislature and the media during the past year, and a sweeping new law revamping the system went into effect July 1.

“Whenever there is significant change to the system, I think it has the effect of stressing the system,” Carroll said. “And not just Our Kids — I’m talking the whole system of care.”

Carroll followed up his letter to Our Kids by sending a “peer consultation team” to Miami, including the chief executive officers of two community-based care agencies, Lee Kaywork of Family Support Services of North Florida Inc., in the Jacksonville area, and Lorita Shirley of Eckerd Community Alternatives in Pasco and Pinellas counties.

Shirley said the team’s charge was addressing the overflow of children into the system, but “we are looking at all aspects of how that system is operating.”

There are currently no children in state care housed in Miami-Dade hotels, Carroll said Friday.

Carole Shauffer of the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center said the interim secretary showed foresight in making the move.
“It’s completely unacceptable to have kids staying in unlicensed facilities,” she said. “Had DCF not taken some action to end this, they would have been subject to liability themselves.”

Shauffer noted that the Youth Law Center sued the department and Big Bend Community Based Care in 2006 for having children sleep in a DCF conference room. After Bob Butterworth became DCF secretary the next year, the department settled the lawsuit. Big Bend, which provides services in Tallahassee and surrounding areas, went on to collaborate with the Youth Law Center on the Quality Parenting Initiative, designed to increase the number and caliber of Florida foster placements.

But placements continue to be a problem in Miami and elsewhere, said Robin Rosenberg, deputy director of the advocacy group Florida’s Children First. She called it “incredible” that an area the size of Miami-Dade County would have so few places to serve the most troubled or traumatized kids.

“It is outrageous that children who need a therapeutic placement are parked in hotels,” Rosenberg said. “And that is not Our Kids’ responsibility.”

She said all the responsible state and local agencies — DCF, the Agency for Health Care Administration, managed-care providers and the managing entities that oversee substance abuse and mental health services — should put their heads together and figure out how to develop enough therapeutic placements to keep kids in their communities.

“They’re getting sent to Jacksonville or Orlando,” Rosenberg said. “How do you get family therapy if your family is three hours away?”

That said, members of the peer consultation team say the issues are being resolved. And former state Sen. Ron Silver, who is now a member of the Our Kids board, said the agency’s relations with DCF have improved “immensely.”

“We are thankful to DCF and our partnering (community based care organizations) for taking the time to meet with us so we can identify best practices from around the state to ensure we are able to provide the absolute best possible service for children and their families,” Black wrote.

Additionally, Our Kids, which has been without a permanent chief executive officer since April, last week hired Jackie Gonzalez for the post. Gonzalez spent the past 13 years at the Children’s Home Society of Miami, most recently as executive director, according to Black.

This report is by Margie Menzel with The News Service of Florida.

To view the original source of the article, visit miami.cbslocal.com

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Foster Care’s Looming Crisis

From Naples Florida Weekly

Florida welfare officials and child advocates expect a surge of children to flood strained state system
BY ATHENA PONUSHIS

MORE CHILDREN ARE ENTERING THE CHILD welfare system. More foster parents are needed to love these children as their own, then let them go.

The Florida Department of Children and Families has shied away from removing children from their homes, acting under the philosophy of family preservation. Protecting families has led to the death of 477 children in six years, investigations show.

Those deaths have provoked change — recent legislation directs DCF to shift its priority to acting in the best interest of the child.

As fearful as child protective investigators were to remove children from their homes, now they’re scared to let them stay.

Child welfare workers sense a surge of children coming, but the increase of children that will enter the system remains unknown.

Foster child advocate Christina Spudeas puts it bluntly: “Are we going to see a kneejerk reaction? Absolutely. Are we going to bring a lot more kids into care than we need to? I absolutely think that’s going to happen. It will, because of heightened fear.”

Leaders of Community Based Care agencies do not see a rise in removals as negative, as Larry Rein of ChildNet says, “If it’s done intelligently to make children safe it is the right and good thing to do, but the key is that we need to have resources to serve those children and those families.”

Florida has 4,561 foster homes. This past year the state added 1,463 new homes, but 1,125 closed, meaning the number of new foster parents has essentially been wiped out. Some foster parents decide to adopt and stop fostering. Others stop due to burnout.

Foster parents feel beat up by the system. They say they are told to advocate for the children, but when they do, they are ignored. They fear if they speak up too much, their foster children will be taken away from them. Sometimes they question if reunifications with biological parents are made for the good of the children or to look good on paper. Many foster parents are throwing their hands up, surrendering to the system, shutting their doors.

But they do not want to discourage potential foster parents, they want to recruit them. They want to break patterns and shift generations.

“Being a foster parent has taught me about unconditional love. I don’t think I ever understood it the right way. It’s the act of loving somebody,” Scott Maulsby says. “See, a lot of times, people think love is an emotion. It’s not.”

It’s an act. And that act broke his heart.

Mr. Maulsby lives in North Palm Beach. He and his wife, Carrie, foster babies, straight from the neonatal intensive care unit, many withdrawing from drugs.

Cameron was not yet 2 months old when he came into their care. He was given nebulizer treatments, inhaling medicine as mist, to treat his asthma. He was taking anti-HIV medications to prevent his mother’s past from being passed on to him. Mom was a prostitute. Dad had nine children with three different women.

“Foster parents in general, I think it’s safe to say, we look at it and we say, I can give this child a better home, so you, judge, should see that, that I’m a better parent than this guy. He’s been in jail, he’s a registered sex offender, he’s this, he’s that, he killed a man, he shot this person, he raped this woman, and I’m a better parent than that person, so give this child to me,” Mr. Maulsby says, summing up his past train of thought, but having fostered seven children in three years, he’s learned, “That’s not fair.”

Cameron lived with the Maulsbys for 14 months. He was reunified with his father. “I’m not going to lie to you. I wanted to adopt Cameron,” Mr. Maulsby says.

He demonized dad in the beginning. When reunification was imminent, it dawned on him, he could lift him up, support the man who would raise the boy he loves.

“Now I’m his biggest fan, so it rehabilitated me, too,” Mr. Maulsby says. “I was wrong when I was rooting against dad, when I was happy that bad things were happening to dad. I was wrong to think that. Now that I’m on the other end of it, the last thing I want is for something bad to happen to dad.”

The Maulsbys feel it’s their calling to foster, an extension of their faith, to be a father to the fatherless. They since have been named Cameron’s godparents. They see what they’ve done as making a “Kingdom impact.”

“If I can impact a father who has nine children, look at the impact that can have over the course of the next three generations,” Mr. Maulsby says. “You think about what you do every day, how much of it is really going to matter in 50 years?”

“What a blessing that would be to see in 100 years, Cameron had some kids and maybe even they had some kids and things were different because of 14 months in our home.”

There are more than 30,000 children in the state dependency system. Roughly 10,000 children are in foster placements — some in foster homes, some in group homes or shelters, some are placed out of county, some are separated from their siblings.

When he thinks of the incomprehensible swell to come, Mr. Maulsby says, “This is like Katrina hit. There’s a tsunami that’s hit.” He cannot understand why it’s not the top story on the news every night: Not enough homes for children. “What else is more important?” he asks. “I can’t figure it out. I really can’t.”

ChildNet, the Community-Based Care lead agency for Broward and Palm Beach counties, reports that as of July there are more than 4,500 children in foster care; 282 new homes opened this past year and 162 closed.

The Children’s Network of Southwest Florida, the lead agency for Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Glades and Hendry counties, reports a total of 570 children in foster care; 120 new homes opened and 72 homes closed.

Wendy Vernon brings up the prospect of foster parenting in every conversation. She does not miss an opportunity to recruit. When she tells people she is a foster parent, she says they immediately respond, “Oh, I could never do that. I could never give the children up.”

This stings her. “Do they think that I don’t have a heart? Is that what they think?” she says. “It’s because you make it about yourself rather than the children, and if you’re thinking about how you would feel, yeah, you would never do it, because it’s heartbreaking.”

Mrs. Vernon wants to dispel the public stereotype that foster parents are in it for the money. DCF reports foster parents are paid $429 a month for children up to age 5; paid $440 a month for children ages 6 to 12; paid $515 a month for children age 13 and older. (Compensation rates are higher for foster parents licensed to care for children with therapeutic needs).

“If you do it properly, that money doesn’t cover it,” Mrs. Vernon says. “What we get we spend on the children. When they come to you, most of them come with nothing, so that’s a very big expense.”

Conversely, she wants to dispel the assumption that you have to have money to foster. “We don’t have a palace. We have an extra room,” she says.

Mrs. Vernon and her husband Paul live in Cape Coral. They came to Florida from England. In their dining room, above a teapot, hangs a plaque that reads: “Ask for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The Vernons have fostered 26 children in five years.

Sitting in her dining room, Mrs. Vernon opens up, the day after she flew to Maine to transition her foster child into a pre-adoptive home. They boy had lived with her for 20 months. When he came to her, he never cried, because at 2 months old, he had learned nobody came when he cried. The Maine family adopted his sibling, so they chose to adopt the boy. The Vernons Skyped with them for months and placed their picture at the boy’s bedside.

“It was strange sitting on the plane, having sat on two planes with him, holding him, then coming away,” Mrs. Vernon loses her words, “empty arms.”

Regaining her composure, falling back on her mantra, she says, “It’s not about me … As much as I could make it about me, I could be sitting here crying my heart out because I’ve just given a little boy away, it’s not about me.”

Mrs. Vernon had four calls for foster placements the two days she was in Maine.

The Vernons liken foster care to emergent care, triage, recovery time, co-parenting with a family in crisis. They render the rewards of being foster parents as seeing a child change, a family heal, becoming whole again.

The Vernons caution that people should not foster with an agenda to adopt. They are so aligned with the goal of reunification, that when it does not come to pass, they feel like they’ve failed.

They believe the key to sustaining foster parents, combatting burnout, is support, the support of other foster parents and the support of the system.

Barbara Boslow, child advocacy coordinator for the Guardian ad Litem Program in Palm Beach County, says she’s not seeing support, she’s seeing threats.

“Constantly. It is unbelievable the way (the system) treats these foster parents. They are not allowed to advocate, they are not allowed to make noise and they’re the ones who know the children the best.”

Mr. Boslow finds this upsetting, so much time spent trying to recruit foster parents, they go through the classes, the whole process, they get their license and then they stop fostering after their first kid.

“They do it and then they’re out,” Ms. Boslow says. “And I do believe, strongly, that the system does not give the foster parents the respect that they deserve. They are not treated as well as they should be … I see so much of a clashing with these angels, these foster parents really are angels, they’re stepping in.”

Ms. Boslow finds herself staring down the same misconception over and over again: “People think there are a lot of foster parents out there, and what I ask them is, ‘How many foster parents do you know?’ They always say none. I go, ‘Well, where do you think they are then?’”

She thinks foster parents would make the best advertising, but so many foster parents have had so many bad experiences, they’re not saying, “Oh, you should do it,” they’re saying, “Don’t do it. It’s the worst.”

“That’s where the attrition comes from,” Ms. Boslow says.

DCF reports the state has an attrition rate of around 1,100 foster homes a year, and to keep pace with the swell of children, the system needs to perpetually attract 1,300 to 1,500 new foster homes annually.

“I think the system needs to have a little sensitivity training on how to deal with foster parents,” Ms. Boslow says. “Where are you going to put these kids?”

Andrea Cook, a foster mom turned adoptive mom living in Orlando, says, “I could never foster again, because the system beat me up.”

Mrs. Cook and her husband Nathan were asked to foster 12-week-old Michael for three weeks, at which point he would go live with his grandmother. Four months later, they were caring for his 2½-year-old brother Elijah, too.

Mrs. Cook was taught to stand up for the children in her foster licensing classes, if something came up that didn’t sit well with her, it was worth a discussion, so in a meeting with the attorney, case manager, Guardian ad Litem and others, Mrs. Cook shared that mom had been showing up to visitation with this new guy. A minor in criminal justice, Mrs. Cook looked into it, and she remembers telling the respective parties, “He just got out of prison for serving a 23-year sentence for murder and you guys are talking about giving mom unsupervised visits with the children and we all know that mom didn’t have a vehicle prior to this gentleman being in her life and now you want to give her unsupervised visits? Common sense tells us he’s going to be the one picking up the kids. We don’t know anything about him. How is this possible? How is this allowed?”

“Everybody in the meeting turned the other way. They ignored it,” Mrs. Cook says.

Mom was supposed to take random drug tests, but Mrs. Cook says mom told her people from the drug rehabilitation program would call her up and say, “Hey, on Thursday we’ve got to give you a random, so meet me at the BP gas station.”

Mom was supposed to take an eight hour parenting course, but it took her five months and 14 cancellations to finish.

“They want you to speak, but at the same time, they threaten you as a foster parent that they will remove the children,” Mrs. Cook says of the system. She spoke up. Reunification did not occur. The Cooks adopted the boys. The last time Mrs. Cook talked to mom, she had two more children, she was living in a hotel room with no food, no money, no gas and no diapers.

“You convince people to get involved in fostering and the system tears you up and you can’t do it again,” Mrs. Cook says. “If you have a child that comes into your home and you are their champion and you are their advocate and you are loving them like you are supposed to, like you love your own child, and then the system works the way it does and puts these children back in harm … you can only take this for so long … If we’re asking foster parents to take care of these kids and really do it the way it should be done, you can’t last.”

Christina Spudeas, executive director of the nonprofit watchdog Florida’s Children First, worries about the proliferation of group home facilities as the state needs to find more placements for foster children. She says group homes receive far more money than foster parents, one child in group care costs the state approximately $31,000 a year, versus $6,000 a year for a child in a foster home. The state paid foster parents $45 million last year.

“We see most of our adolescents being placed in congregate families, and yet they are going to create their own families someday,” Ms. Spudeas says. “How do they learn to be good parents when they have never been part of a family?”

Called “Mama” to Florida Youth SHINE, an advocacy group made up of former foster youths, Ms. Spudeas hears how it was the wish of many foster children to stay with their families. “I understand that keeping the family intact, if you can keep the children safe, is a wonderful goal, but the fact of the matter is, it started to trump what was in the best interest of the children,” she says.

Contemplating the legislative shift in priorities from family preservation to child safety, Ms. Spudeas anticipates a flood of children in need of foster care.

She muses over the implementation of new decision-making methods for child protective investigators to better assess safety and risk, a methodology some suggest will lead to less children in foster care. “Should there be less that come into care? I don’t know. I can’t say that. I don’t know. Apparently, 477 should have been that weren’t,” she says, referring to the Miami Herald investigation of 477 child deaths that happened under DCF’s watch.

Again, Larry Rein, executive director of ChildNet, does not see the rise of children being removed from their homes as negative, as long as resources are in place, like a well of foster families.

Child welfare workers say you cannot just look at the numbers, ‘We have this many foster children to place, we have this many foster homes,’ because it doesn’t translate. You have to find the right fit.

“Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing if they could do that, but they don’t. It’s like, ‘Where’s the bed?’ That’s it. It’s not the person, the family, the fit,” Ms. Spudeas says. Having the inventory to match foster parent and child, “That’s a luxury we wish we could have,” she says.

Looking at DCF July numbers: There are 4,561 licensed foster homes in Florida; 1,776 foster homes are caring for more than one child; 1,427 foster homes do not have any children placed in them at all.

Mr. Rein cautions those in the system, don’t jump for the empty bed, “don’t make a placement just to make a placement,” make a good fit. If the child does not fit with the family dynamic, the family may feel frazzled, “We can’t do this,” close their door, the child feels abandoned again, and the family may not foster another.

As much as the last state legislative session was geared toward child safety, Mr. Rein would like to see the next legislative session geared toward family services.

“People need to understand that the child abuse system in the state of Florida is predominantly a system about adult substance abuse and adult mental illness and adult domestic violence,” he says. “That’s the root of the problem and we need, most definitely, additional resources targeting those problems and until we do that, we’re doing a disservice to the children in the system.”

So while he’s grateful for funding on the front end, $56.9 million put toward child welfare, Mr. Rein would like to see some money on the back end, because as he says, families in the dependency system aren’t coming out of nowhere, many are coming back from relapse. The total DCF budget is

$2.8 billion.

In the course of her life from foster child to foster parent, Ashley Rhodes-Courter says she has seen the child welfare pendulum swing from nonsensical removals to nonsensical reunifications.

She believes her adoption saved her life, but she feels when she was removed from her mother, if her mother had been given the support of the system, she could have gotten it together, rather than turning to those who gave her food and shelter, drug dealers and pimps, who did not progress her life in a positive way.

Without support, she feels the emphasis on biological reunifications may not be best and may be dangerous. “I think we’re leaning too much into biology and that’s why all these premature reunifications are happening and that’s why children are being killed,” Ms. Rhodes- Courter says.

She wrote a memoir of the nine years she spent passing through 14 different foster homes, titled, “Three Little Words,” and in the circle of things, she has since seen one of her foster daughters fall asleep reading it. When she went to tuck her in, she remembers thinking, “Holy cow, here’s my foster daughter reading my story about when I was a foster child and I hoped in that moment it brought her some peace.” And some company.

Her second book, “Three More Words,” on her experiences as a foster parent, will be out in May. Ms. Rhodes- Courter and her husband, Erick Smith, have fostered more than 20 children, going on four years.

“Each time we got a phone call, it just killed me,” she says. “Who can say no to a homeless child?”

Ms. Rhodes-Courter was shocked to learn the highest population of children needing care in Pinellas County, where she lives, were little ones, children under the age of 5, because of the prevalence of prescription drug abuse in Florida.

She has fostered a little girl whose mother used to put her cigarettes out on the little girl’s arms. She has fostered malnourished children with rotted-out teeth.

Ms. Rhodes-Courter says one of her foster children, who tested positive for STDs, was reunified with the abusers. She says another foster child was sent home after she presented the court with time-stamped Facebook photographs of continuing drug use in the home.

“Hitting those kinds of walls, time and time again … we were treated so poorly, so frequently, that I can definitely see how foster parents burn out,” Ms. Rhodes-Courter says.

As a foster child, and even volunteering as a Guardian ad Litem, Ms. Rhodes- Courter remembers thinking, “Foster parents just do it for the money. There are fewer good foster parents than there are horrible foster parents who have ulterior motives.” As a foster parent, she says, “I learned that’s not true, that there are countless amazing foster parents and we really strive to be one of those amazing foster homes, but I’m also learning, those amazing foster homes, probably the reason that I didn’t have any of them, is that they burn out so quickly.”

Her biggest fear in speaking and writing about her life as a foster parent is sounding negative, but she says, “We can only share the story that we experienced.”

Ms. Rhodes-Courter and her husband continue to foster because there are children who need a safe bed, a fully belly, who need to be nurtured, who need to be read to, who need to see what healthy looks like.

Her thoughts drift back to a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old, siblings they fostered, who came into their home wanting to play Grand Theft Auto and watch violent movies. “That’s not how we roll in our house,” Ms. Rhodes-Courter says.

Her husband started reading them bedtime stories. “In such a short period, I mean, they had to have these bedtime stories, so it became this routine and they became kids again,” she says. “I would stand outside the door and cry because it was so beautiful to see these young boys who were so desensitized, so exposed to things well beyond their years, but to see them light up with a bedtime story … Oh, that’s why you do it.”

So foster children can become children again.

This article originated at naples.floridaweekly.com. Click here to view the original version.

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SOS Children Supporter to Swim 2,000 Miles from Africa to Brazil

“Swim The Big Blue” will chart a course from Dakar, Senegal to Natal, Northern Brazil across the open Mid-South Atlantic Ocean. Using freestyle swimming (front crawl) UK national Ben Hooper will swim up to a total of 12 hours per day. His epic swim will take him over 30-foot surges, passing through shark inhabited regions, and without doubt, he will encounter jelly fish, flying fish and a harsh Equatorial sun. Then, there will be “The Doldrums” and her stillness, humidity, lack of movement…yet at any time the dead calm could explode into raging storms, heavy squalls and lightning to sting the sea.

africa-to-brazil-map

Swimming in sea temperatures ranging from 20 – 30 degrees centigrade, (68 – 86 Fahrenheit), with currents from 1 – 7 knots flowing westward and north-west, this will be a gruelling trial of endurance and mental strength unlike any before. When successful, Ben will be the first man in history to have swum an ocean in full, and will be the first man to explicitly and transparently detail his swim – swimming the exact mileage of the intended crossing.

He will compete against the elements and himself, and with varying temperatures, sea conditions and rough seas, he will have appropriate swim clothing available to ensure swimming and safety can be maintained. Should a smack of jellyfish be encountered, a ‘stinger suit’ may be worn to counter or minimize the effect of stings. Additionally, Ben will be wearing or surrounded by at least one Shark Shield device, as will the boat be equipped with a counter-shark device and shark-safe chemical repellents.

The swim, on a daily basis, will be broken down into a maximum of two 6-hour periods. Between the two 6-hour sessions, there will be two hours of rest on the support boat. During this rest period (and overnight up to 10 hours), Ben will be aboard the boat where he will sleep and consume a high carbohydrate, fat and protein diet as well as rehydrating. He may burn up to 12,000 calories per day.

The boat and crew, will note the GPS position of each swim entry and exit, and will account for drift in order to add any vacant distances back into the swim or to the end of the swim, by altering course to a point further than the intended port of arrival, thereby ensuring the whole distance of the originally intended route is completed. As a further measure, use of a sea anchor will reduce the drift ensuring that the total mileage spent out of the water is minimized, recorded and still swum before the end of the expedition: a total of up to 2000 miles in approximately 90 days.

Every detail will be logged, and with filming and video diary (by Ridgeline and SmackDab) will give full and transparent accounts of the expedition and its support team.

During each swim leg Ben will feed and drink approximately every thirty minutes while in the water. Always without touching the boat or any other supporting device, the crew will pass supplies to Ben by throwing or by pole depending on conditions. Unless there is an emergency or safety risk, Ben shall not have any other form of physical contact with the boat (other than being passed food/drink) during the two 6-hour periods of swimming.

This is it, Ben versus The Atlantic Ocean. Ben will depart in November 2015 from Dakar Harbour, Senegal and is expected to arrive in Natal, North-East Brazil in January of 2016.

This text was reposted from its origin on swimmingtheblue.com.

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10 Back-to-School Tips for Parents of Preschoolers

speechbuddy.com

speechbuddy.com

1. If you and your child have fallen out of your bedtime routine this summer, get back into a solid routine! A week before the first day of school is a good time frame in which to begin.

2. Plan and shop for healthy breakfasts and lunches a week in advance. This will save you precious time and prevent much stress in the long run!

3. Accidents happen! Prepare a change of clothes in advance, and bring it with you on the first day of school for your child’s teacher to keep in the classroom.

4. If possible, arrange play dates with other parents of preschoolers, or find out if your local library or community center offers free events for young children. Spending time with other children will help your child’s social and emotional development and prepare her for the school environment.

5. Connect with other parents and students on the first day back to preschool. Introduce yourself and your child. Bring a show-and-tell item to break the ice, or a snack to share with the class.

To view more tips, visit the full article on parentfurther.com.

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