Monthly Archives: July 2012

Who is Your Emily?

Guest blog post by Glenn Broch, DCF Southern Region Family & Community Services Director. He tells this story to help DCF staff cope with working with abused, neglected children. 

A week ago, my wife and I had the pleasure of watching my 20-month-old granddaughter Emily. It was the first time we would be putting her to bed because her parents were going out to eat. Before dinner, we took Emily to the park, which is within walking distance from her house. She has a teddy bear named ‘Bo-ji’, (which happens to be the same bear her father had as a young child) that she wanted to take to the park with her. She also wanted to take her Elmo, so while she walked to the park next to my wife, I pushed the stroller with ‘Bo-Ji’ and Elmo strapped into the seat.

Emily wanted to swing at the park, so while my wife pushed her on the swing, I had to push ‘Bo-Ji’ and Elmo on the swing next to her, all the time wondering what the other kids in the playground were thinking about the old guy with the toy dolls.

After dinner, Emily wanted me to put on her favorite song (‘Brown-eyed Girl’), which we danced and listened to four or five times before it was time to get ready for bed. My wife got her into her pajamas, and then we took turns reading her favorite Bible stories to her. After that it was time for prayers, hugs, and lights out.

As Emily lay in her crib, cuddling with ‘Bo-ji’, I could hear her quietly reciting names – “Daddy, Mommy, Anma, Anpa (that’s me).” Whether she was praying or talking to her bear, I knew she was listing all of the people who surround her with love and take such delight in her.

I began to think about how this is what life should be like for a child – secure, happy, loved, always laughing, dancing … and then I thought how different it is for so many of the children we work with every day – frightened, abused, with sad empty eyes. I want all of the children in our community to have what Emily has. I want every child to know the peace and security that comes from having loving parents who tuck them in at night and make each day such a wonder. It is that thought that motivates me each day to recommit myself to make the world a better place for all children.

I challenge my DCF management team: When you become discouraged and tired, and wonder whether you can muster the energy to fight the daily battle against abuse, look into your heart and find your own ‘Emily.” Then determine that you will give your best to ensure that every child we work with has the same opportunity to be surrounded with the love and affection that Emily has.

I won’t be a failure

Guest post by Sixto Cancel, a 20-year-old former foster child from Connecticut who advocates for foster children across the nation and helps them learn the skills they need to succeed in their futures. 

Eighteen years ago, when I was just 11 months old, strangers came to my house and took me away. I was the fifth of 10 children. My mother couldn’t have kept me if she tried. She shot heroin day after day and even let my 3-year-old brother run into the street where he got smashed by a car.

I had a failed adoption and began to feel rejected and abandoned. I wondered why I was not wanted. The University of Chicago, Midwest Study (2010) shows that 40 percent of foster kids end up incarcerated, and 20 percent end up homeless, but I refuse to be a statistic. I won’t be a failure.

Soon my friends were calling me “Mr. Busybody” and a “know-it-all.” I needed to prepare and in that process I founded and now run a $17,500 program: Stellar Works Transitional Services. I designed the program to prepare foster children for adulthood through post-secondary education, including trades and certification. I wanted to give kids aging out of the foster care system the tools they needed to live and succeed on their own.

Sixto Cancel speaking at Education Summit to Improve Foster Care

All this led me to an invitation by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunity Initiative to a national training where I was selected to be part of the national board to further my advocacy. I went from having no voice to being on CNN, NPR, Harvard Law and other media outlets stating foster care issues. Since the airing, I have visited the nation’s capital to speak with Congressmen, law makers, conferences and agencies. My anger has developed into passion.

My experiences have built resiliency, perseverance, integrity and leadership. My childhood made me the person I am today. I look back at my past and I know that I would not change any event of my life, but I will do everything I can to make life easier for kids in foster care now.

Staying close to home

Guest post by Life Management Center, a DCF-funded mental health facility in Bay County.

DCF Secretary Wilkins talks with Keith, a former FACT patient

Imagine being so sick that you are not able to take care of yourself and your family doesn’t feel capable of caring for you. You have to leave home for care for an extended amount of time. This happens every day for people with severe and persistent mental illness when their illness does not respond well to traditional treatments.

We often see these people sent to state hospitals to receive treatment far away from friends and family, sent to jail after committing a minor crime, or even homeless and on the streets without any help in sight. Wouldn’t it be better if we could help these people right in their communities where they still have the support of their friends and family? Wouldn’t it be better if they were able to function well enough to return to school or get a job? Of course it would!

With the help of several key stakeholders, Life Management Center of Northwest Florida is so pleased to be able to once again offer these types of services in Bay County. In January 2013 we will be able to reinstate a program called Florida Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) in our community. Through FACT we will be able to provide people with improved psychiatric care and supportive services that will help them rebuild their lives. From medication management to supportive employment services, these clients will be offered every support needed to get back on their feet.

We were thrilled to be able to recognize DCF Secretary David Wilkins yesterday for his part in making the funding for this program possible. While he has visited Life Management Center a few times over the last year, this time was different. With this visit, Secretary Wilkins had a chance to visit with Keith, one of our former FACT clients, who was quick to point out how much the program had helped him regain his independence. Sec. Wilkins was able to talk to him about some of the obstacles he had encountered while trying to get well, including the high cost of psychiatric drugs. Keith explained how the FACT program had helped him with those costs and other support.

The staff of Life Management Center is excited to be able to offer the FACT program again to our community members, and we look forward to helping people with severe mental health problems regain their lives.

That’s MY Bag.

Guest blog post by Maritza Moreno, the 2009-2011 president of the South Dade Foster and Adoptive Parent Association, and founder of My Bags.  She and her husband have been foster parents since 2008. 

The “seed” for the My Bag project was placed in our hearts by a child protective investigations supervisor in Miami, Jenny Soriano-Priestly.  She related how distressing it was that most of the time when children are removed from their parents they don’t have a bag or suitcase to put their belongings in.  CPIs would have to resort to using trash bags to transport the belongings of children while they were undergoing the trauma of being removed from their parents. This was horrifying to me; these “little things” we just don’t think about in our day-to-day lives, but these “little things,” the subtle messages, are the ones that children learn from.

At the time, we unfortunately didn’t have the money to fund the project.  However, at the end of 2011, our Association received a generous donation and, with matching funds from Our Kids of Miami-Dade & Monroe, our current president, Martha Pedroso, made sure that the project was a success.

We have bought 250 “My Bags” that are being distributed to the DCF hubs and also some police stations in Miami.  When CPIs go to remove a child, they bring one of the bags to help the child collect their belongings – a bag the child can call their own.

Mrs. Pedroso’s marketing background has proven very effective to get the community involved at all levels. One volunteer heard about us through social networking. A Davie student, Ari Kaplan, chose to participate in the My Bag project by fundraising and collecting duffle bags as his Bar Mitzvah special community project.

The next step is to obtain comfort items to include with the bags, such as toothbrush/toothpaste, a small toy or book.  We understand that sometimes these children may not have these items or there may not be enough time to obtain them.

We wish to ease the trauma children must endure. They are innocent victims.

Enjoy the Potty Training and Be Wary of the Potty Training Training

Guest post by Chris Cate, author/creator of www.TheParentNormal.com, a parenting humor website about close encounters of the baby and toddler kind. You can follow Chris Cate or The ParentNormal on Twitter @ChrisCate and @TheParentNormal.

The first time my toddler looked up at me and asked to be taken to the “potty” (without first being bribed) was an emotional moment. It meant my daughter was growing up. I remember it fondly. The moment was nearly as emotional as it was an hour later when my toddler looked up at me and said, “I pooped my pants.” It meant my daughter was growing down. I remember it, reluctantly.

For months, my wife and I trained our daughter to go tee-tee (a “word” forced into my vocabulary) on the potty seat. Yet, our first victory lasted less time than it takes to install a car seat. But as I checked the living room furniture for brown toddler fingerprints, I had an epiphany. While we had been potty training our daughter for months, she had been potty training training us since the day she was born.

Every day of her life, our daughter used diapers like disposable port-o-pots. She had no desire to change as long as we were doing all of the changing for her. She also realized that trips to the potty had other benefits such as immediate attention, praise and treats from mommy and daddy, and having a prime excuse for staying up late into the night. And to her, “There ain’t no potty like a late night potty because a late night potty don’t stop.” While my wife and I sat on the edge of the bathtub at 2 a.m. waiting to hear something splash the water, our daughter heard exactly what she requested, stories with characters of her choosing. She trained us well.

Eventually, my wife and I began catching on to the scheme. But our daughter refused to abandon her life’s work.  She resorted to having fewer accidents and more intentionals, which were temporarily successful for her and distressful for us. She kept us aware of the consequences of not taking her to the potty. But the takeaway for us and for other parents reading this is that there is an end to the chaos. The flaw in our daughter’s plan (and probably your toddler’s plan too) was that it required her to learn how to control her digestive system, even if it meant going potty in the corner of the living room – which she quickly learned is a poor alternative to going in the potty. So it got messy in the end, but the important thing is that it did end, and it will for you too.

Good luck.