Monthly Archives: May 2012

Part 1, Site Visit: Children’s Home Society

DCF Secretary David Wilkins blogs about his recent visit to Children’s Home Society

DCF Secretary David WilkinsThere was a 9-year-old they told me about, a young girl. She was a straight “A” student at school, but her report card noted she wasn’t participating in anything after school, like sports or music. So we sat down with her foster family to find out what was up – was it a transportation issue? Was the girl having trouble at home? Everyone in the girl’s life, from her foster parent and teachers to case manager and tutors  is included in the report card so that everyone comes together to make sure all aspects of the young girl’s life are on track.

This is just one story I heard when I recently stopped by Children’s Home Society in Tallahassee. Every foster child in Florida now has a report card like this. We want them to succeed in EVERY part of their lives, and hold everyone accountable for their success.

CHS also told me about some technology that is unique to their area – remote data capture. This means that they can use their BlackBerry to do pretty much anything on-the-move that they would normally do at a desk, like putting notes in a foster child’s file or checking the statewide database. They reported having some issues with connections in rural areas, but it sounds like they are working through the kinks and having some good results.

Before my wife and I left CHS, we stopped by its Treehouse, an emergency shelter for foster kids ages 2 – 11. This is a safe place staffed 24 hours a day where kids can go before they are placed with a foster family. We visited after school hours, so we sat with the kids and helped them with their homework a bit. It has been a long time since I’ve helped kids with their spelling words – my daughters are already grown – but it came back quickly and it was nice to connect with the kids.

I was glad to be able to visit and talk to our case managers. They work all hours of the day and night to protect our children. But these are just a few of the conversations I had while at CHS; I’ll be sharing more soon.

Anger had built up. I got help.

Guest post by Jelisa Hudson, 23, a former Florida foster youth who has aged out of the system and has placed priority on her mental health. She currently is helping shape a statewide initiative to reach out to other youth and break the stigma associated with mental illnesses.  

I am the oldest of 11 siblings and moved around a lot in foster care. I never really had time to set goals aside for myself because I was so worried that my siblings wouldn’t succeed and I did whatever I had to do to keep them focused.

Because of everything I went through, anger had built up. I had all of this stuff bottled up inside me.  I couldn’t sleep, I was anxious, I was really angry, but I didn’t know what to do or where to go for help.

Talking to someone is a really big thing to do, but it can be really hard to make yourself get started and keep going.

When I was younger I went to counseling, but didn’t really trust what they said. I felt I couldn’t trust them back then because to me it seemed like the system had a funny way of listening to us and keeping their word. I just didn’t know who I could really rely on.

I now have a son and am realizing just how important talking to someone really is, not only for me, but also for my son. How I feel and how I handle stress affects him. I want to be a great parent, and that means making sure that I am there for my son and am at my best.

Note:

DCF funds many mental health services available for Floridians. Check out resources in your area 

The initiative Jelisa is working on will help connect caregivers, youth, state agencies, providers and communities to better serve children and families struggling with mental health challenges. The work group believes mental health services should be family-driven, youth-guided, community-based, and sensitive to cultural differences. We’re looking for your feedback – what ways can DCF better connect you with resources in your area? How can we break the stigma sometimes associated with mental health?

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DCF Secretary Wilkins re: Brevard County Deaths

DCF Secretary David Wilkins

DCF Secretary David WilkinsIt doesn’t matter how long I am in this job, I will never get used to hearing about the deaths of children. It is so hard to realize that young lives with us just yesterday have now gone. It doesn’t matter if it is from an incurable illness, a preventable drowning or at the hands of violence, every death shakes us all to our cores.

Yesterday we learned of the tragic deaths of four children and their mother in Brevard County. DCF has worked with the family in the past, on April 9, 2012. There was a report that a child in the home had been released from a detention facility and that the child had not been picked up by a caretaker.  The matter was resolved during an investigation and the family had not been reported to DCF again.

This is all of the information we have at this time, but will be working with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office and do all we can do to support their investigation. The Department and all of its employees extend their deepest condolences to the loved ones of this family.

If you think someone may be a victim of abuse or neglect, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873.

I Am Proud of Myself

Guest post by former Ready for Life youth Jasmine Randles. Ready for Life is a valued DCF Partner for Promise whose mission is to engage foster care youth, private citizens and public resources to assist Pinellas County foster youth in a successful transition to adulthood. Story provided by Ready for Life. 

I am 19 years old with a daughter who is almost 3 years old.  My life changed a lot when I was 14. Back then I would have said it was for the worst, but now looking back I can see it may have been a blessing in disguise.

The teenage years are usually when kids are entering high school, hitting puberty, learning about themselves and their place in the world – exactly when you would need a strong family support system the most. But for me things were different.  I was taken from my family and placed in foster care; it was an extremely hard transition for me.

I had a sister and two brothers who I loved with all my heart. I dearly loved my parents as well, even when their choices weren’t the best for us.  My family had always been very important to me and when I went into foster care I didn’t know how to define myself or my values.

My first two years in care I went through about six different placements, both foster homes and group homes.  Then when I was 16 my life underwent yet another drastic change when I found out I was pregnant.

After I found out I was going to have a baby, I moved to a group home called Alpha House.  I was able to live there among other young girls who were in the same situation as me and I was able to keep my baby in my care while I was still in foster care.  Being in that group home my last two years really prepared me for the real world. I also enjoyed this home because it allowed us to have more independence and freedom and also taught us responsibility, hard work and how to be good, strong mothers.

When my birthday came around I felt I was ready to be on my own, but living by myself at first was nerve-wracking and scary.  I wasn’t used to it at all, but luckily Alpha House gave us practice in life skills and budgeting.  It was a little different actually doing it, but I always made sure all my bills were paid first before I ever spent money on anything else. I still make sure my bills are paid first and then my household needs and child’s needs are met.  I’ve never gotten evicted, received late rent notice, got noise complaints, had any house parties or drugs and the utilities have always been connected.

Growing up the way I did taught me a lot about how things should and shouldn’t be, especially since I have a child in the house.  I’m proud of myself, as a young adult and as a young mother, that my daughter won’t have to experience the things I did as a child.

The main difference between being in care and on my own is
that someone is responsible for you and you’re constantly being watched and your needs are being met for you.  Being on your own, you’re responsible for your own actions and taking care of yourself.  If I mess up no one is going to come save me.  Before, I would still have a roof over my head, now I would have to figure it out on my own.

Since I aged out of foster care, I have finished another year of college and will be graduating with my Associate in Arts degree in January 2013. Right now I am working part-time and still going to school full-time.  Soon I am going to be going to the University of South Florida and majoring in business and minoring in vet technology.  In about three years I hope to be starting my career and really getting established in the community. I am proud of myself.

Note:

For more information about how you can help foster kids like Jasmine, check out DCF’s Partners for Promise program.

What is a “mother”?

Guest blog post by Mrs. Tanya Wilkins. Mrs. Wilkins mentors foster children, is a mother of three girls and is the wife of DCF Secretary David Wilkins.

You may remember your mother being there when you got home from school, giving you hugs and asking about your day.  You may recall the time when she stayed up late to talk when you couldn’t understand why your so-called friend didn’t invite you to their party or when you didn’t make the basketball team.  So many of you are so blessed to have had a mother who gives you unconditional love and was there for you through thick and thin. If you experienced these beautiful times with your mother, please give her a call or visit with fresh flowers or big hugs to say a special thank you and tell her how much you love her!  Don’t take your wonderful mother for granted because those mothers are not always the norm.

Then there are many that may find Mothers Day a very painful day.  You may have grown up with a wonderful mother, but maybe you cannot have a child of your own, so you wait month after month to once again be disappointed to realize that your hopes and dreams of being a mother are diminishing. Your mother may have passed, or you remember your mother with a physical or mental illness that left her unable to care for you.  Or your mother neglected or abused you for reasons that you will never understand.  Please take the time for yourself to heal – spend time with a counselor and work through your painful experiences so that you can move forward with your life and learn to love yourself and others in a healthy way.

On Mother’s Day, it is imperative for us to remember the many abused or neglected children who have escaped a horrific parent or caregiver that they thought they could love and trust.  There are so many ways that we can help these innocent and vulnerable children that find themselves with no one.  These are not “bad” children; they are precious children that have had bad things happen in their lives. These children hope that they will have someone that will open their hearts and their homes and love them “no matter what.” They dream of a life where they have that one person who believes in them – believes that they will be successful and help them overcome the odds that are against them.

If you feel your heart break when you hear of a little boy or girl that doesn’t have a mommy or daddy, please pause to think of what you can do to make a difference in the child’s life. There are many ways to help, from mentoring at a local children’s organization or school, to fostering or adopting Florida’s wonderful children. Even businesses can get involved through Partners for Promise – simple things like a haircut donated from a hair stylist or an on-the-job learning opportunity mean so much to the kids. More than 1,000 Florida businesses are already helping!

Together, we can change lives … one mommy, daddy, mentor and volunteer at a time. Happy Mother’s Day!