Monthly Archives: November 2012

They’ve found forever families

Post by DCF Director of Digital Media and Outreach Niki Pocock.

Niki Pocock

Yesterday was a great day in Florida. Eleven children joined their forever families. Adoption ceremonies and events are happening all over Florida this month and each one is quite emotional.

Since my one-year anniversary at DCF is coming up, this was my first opportunity to attend one of these heart-touching events. I’m glad my coworkers told me to wear waterproof mascara!

Here are the moments that got to me the most:

  • The judge asked a little boy to point to his mom and dad. He pointed to his adoptive mother and father.
  • Adoptive mother gave her new children rings to symbolize their unity as a family, just like a wedding ring.
  • An adoptive grandmother exclaimed, “I’m about to be a new grandma!”
  • Therapy dogs were at the court so the kids could visit them if the stimulation of the event got to be too much. It was amazing how the kids instantly calmed down as soon as they touched the dogs.
  • An elder sister, 22, adopted her three younger sisters and said, “We love each other so much. We are all we’ve got.” (there were many tears for this one!)
  • An adopted child says, “I still love my birth mom, even though she couldn’t protect me. But I’m happy to have a family that loves and takes care of me now.”

I’m so happy for all the children in Florida who have found their forever homes! If you are interested in adoption, please visit Explore Adoption for more info.

She just joined her forever family!


"I'm going to be a new grandma!"

Oldest sister (far left) adopts her three younger sisters. A very emotional moment!


A new family!

Serving those who have served us

Guest post by Doug Leonardo, Executive Director of BayCare Behavioral Health, a DCF partner.

Doug Leonardo

He sat at the desk closest to the door in a classroom at the community college.  He did not want to be there. His girlfriend and family pushed him to do it.  “John” was back after several tours in Iraq and not yet 25 years old.  He did not feel like he fit in anywhere, especially not in a classroom with a bunch of “kids.”  In the back of the room was another veteran, “Steve.”  The two had not yet met, but Steve was about to play a pivotal role in John’s life.

The professor was trying to engage John by asking him about his service in the military.  He was asking questions about where he served, what he did, for how long  and what it was like over there.  Then he asked the question that nearly created a crisis, “Did you see any action over there?”  Steve immediately saw the look that came over John’s face as his eyes went blank.  Steve interrupted the professor and suggested the class take a break.  John got up and walked out and Steve followed.  The two talked and Steve knew John was hurting and close to being out of control. Steve had been where John was and knew that if he didn’t get help that the outcome would not be good.

Steve told John about a free support group for veteran’s offered by BayCare Behavioral Health.  Steve knew about this group because he was the peer group facilitator who led the group open to all Veteran’s and their family members.

John took the information but did not appear to be interested.  He did not go to the next few classes and Steve was concerned.  One night at the support group, John walked in accompanied by his girlfriend.  She had found the information Steve gave to him and convinced John to attend with her by his side.  During the group John said nothing, again sitting near the door in case he felt like he needed to run.  But John stayed and came back again and again.  Eventually he started to participate in the group and eventually started to attend therapy sessions at BayCare Behavioral Health.

Today John is doing great.  He is still going to class and has found a job.  He continues to receive counseling services from us and seems to have turned the corner.  Today BayCare Behavioral Health serves over 1,600 veterans annually and countless more family members in services that range from outreach to outpatient therapy to detox to residential and everything in between.   We do this to help our service men, women and their families get the behavioral health services they need and deserve.  They served us, so now it is our turn to serve them.

For ideas about how to start a veteran’s initiative in your community, contact me at (727) 841.4207 ext 252.

We send a heartfelt thank you to all our veterans. You served us, now let us serve you.

*Names were changed to protect privacy and confidentiality.

Crying for the Innocent

Guest post by DCF Director of Digital Media and Outreach Niki Pocock.

Niki Pocock

Every day in November, DCF will be featuring three wonderful foster children in need of forever families. As the social media gal at DCF, I struggle to put their lives into 140 characters in the hopes their future family will click on the link. Most days, I cry.

It is no secret that I am a crier: Exhibit A. I cry while posting the majority of our blog posts, even if they highlight good stories. These kids looking for families – something I always took for granted growing up – those are the stories that really get to me. And now as a mother myself, my heart aches for these children.

They didn’t ask to be abused or neglected. They are innocent victims born into tragedy. All they want is a family that will always be there for them. A family that will take them to see “The Avengers” movie. A family that will go their baseball games and recitals. A family that believes in them.

Many of the kids never find a family. DCF has great programs to help them transition into adulthood, but it isn’t the same as a family. It is no substitution for unconditional love.

I encourage you to check out this month’s Amazing Children. If you have room in your heart and home, please consider adopting or even mentoring a child by reaching out to the adoption specialist in your area. You could completely change their life.

Two teens. Two worlds apart.

Post by Terri Durdaller, DCF SunCoast Region Communications Director

Thomas and Terri

Sometimes you meet someone who makes you see your own life through a whole new lens.

I met Thomas while working on a video with DCF’s Refugee Services program and the Pinellas Technical Education Centers. Thomas is a refugee from Eritrea in East Africa, who resettled in Tampa three years ago. He and his family left Eritrea because they were fleeing political prosecution.

During his interview for the video, Thomas gave a powerful definition of what a refugee is. He describes a refugee as someone who loses their identity and culture for the sake of protection.

Hearing him say this made me think of my own identity, who I am and how I grew up. Thomas and I are roughly the same age. He was living in a refugee camp while I was graduating high school in the Midwest. His uncle from Germany would send his family money so they could eat. Mine sent me money for holidays and birthdays that I saved for my prom dress.

At the refugee camp, Thomas and his family were given oil and ground wheat. They had to grind the wheat themselves to make it edible. Their meals were eaten together in a house they built themselves from sticks and grass. My family shopped together every Sunday at the local market. I chatted about the week ahead as my mother placed pork loins and fresh vegetables in our cart. Thomas felt protected in his camp. I felt protected in my small town.

When I turned 18 my grandmother talked to me about the importance of voting, especially for women. I still follow politics and am active in a number of political causes.  Thomas’ grandmother was arrested three times for her political beliefs.

When Thomas is upset he struggles to find the English words to describe his emotions. Every minute he misses his home country. It took him a year to truly adapt to life in the fast-paced United States, but he now calls this home. He plans on becoming a citizen, and one day the kids he hopes to have will call Tampa their hometown.

The refugee video will be unveiled in early 2013. The department will link to it via YouTube. I hope each of you will watch it and learn more about the refugees sitting next to you at church, shopping alongside you in the grocery stores and attending school with your children. They aren’t here for a job. They didn’t come to Florida for a vacation. They left everything they know for protection.

God bless America.

Sex trafficked and their parents never knew

Guest post by Amy Turner, Trail Blazers Club Leader for Lee County 4-H Extension. The student organization recently organized an interactive human trafficking awareness exhibit at the recent conference organized by the International Committee on Human Rights in Southwest Florida in partnership with the South Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking. Kudos to these students for taking the lead and being proactive in their community.

 She missed the bus and a popular older boy offered her a ride home. They stop at his house on the way so he can pick up a book. He offers her to come inside and gets her a glass of soda. She wakes up groggy, on a bed, sore. The soda was drugged, and he and his friends sexually assaulted her. They have pictures and will show her parents if she doesn’t come back. She comes back. Her parents never knew.

His new girlfriend introduced him to a music producer. The producer sees a lot of promise in him, offers to cut him a demo tape for free. His parents check out the producer – he has a website and references. He goes to the studio, closes the door and is beat up by three large men. They force him into prostitution with the threat of being beat up again if he refuses.

 A new girl is in her class. Seems edgy, cool. They are friends, texting and hanging out together for weeks. Her dad cleans office buildings and offers her a job. Her parents meet the friend and her parents to try to check it out. Her parents reluctantly say ok and drop her off. She is drugged and driven out of town in a truck.

Trail Blazers Club Leader for Lee County 4-H Extension

The examples above are based on true stories. They were kids from good homes with caring families. Hearing stories like these made Lee County Extension 4-H want to get involved in human trafficking prevention awareness. Our students wanted to do something with a big impact that would make people understand that it can happen to anyone. They wanted to warn their friends.

Side view of human trafficking exhibit

So the students worked with Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships Inc. Founder/Executive Director Nola Theiss to design an elaborate set called the T.I.P.S. exhibit (Trafficking Interactive Prevention Simulation). It had life-size pictures of buildings and school buses, true-story scenarios, and led Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking conference event attendees through the hallways of real human trafficking situations.  Visitors were given cards with various scenarios and armed with tips to avoid being “trafficked.” Mental health counselors were placed at the exit so every attendee that completes their walk through had the opportunity to discuss what they just experienced.

One of the biggest things for parents to remember is to talk to your kids. Let them know they can tell you anything. Some of the other tips on the attendees’ cards included:

  • Don’t eat or drink anything you did not see prepared.
  • Always make sure a trusted friend knows where you are.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, wait at least 24 hours.  Talk about it with someone you trust.
  • Use the Internet to research the background of opportunities that come your way, like music and modeling.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no to an adult who makes you feel uncomfortable.  Lie if you have to and warn others about him or her.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of human trafficking, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873.

Trail Blazers Club Leader for Lee County 4-H Extension