Monthly Archives: December 2012

My childhood does not define me

Guest blog post by Carmen, a former Florida foster child.

Carmen

My childhood was not the ideal one you would expect to have. But it provided me with many memories and experiences, good and bad.

I grew up with two brothers and a sister in Worcester, Massachusetts. We were raised in the projects and had very little. I remember as a little girl wishing I had the life of the kids in my neighborhood. They always seemed happy and alive.

My family and social environment was extremely dysfunctional. My earliest memories of my biological mother are very slim. I remember not feeling protected by her and feeling as if my siblings and I were always last to her. When I was 4, my sister and I went into one foster care home while my brother went to another. My mother was given numerous attempts to be responsible, but it was as if the concept of parenting and responsibility were foreign to her. Soon after that, my mother lost custody of the four of us, and my siblings’ father received permanent custody (he had adopted me when I was a newborn). We moved to his home in Florida.

It was at this point in my life that freedom and individuality stopped existing. My father was exceedingly abusive. He constantly engaged in impaired relationships with women who were vulnerable. They were beautiful and good women, but easily broken down like china glass. At the age of 7, I cleaned, hand-washed clothes, cooked and did yard work while the rest of my family did nothing.

I witnessed the continuous verbal abuse between my father and siblings. My heart broke everyday seeing my siblings get physically abused. My father would whip them with the belt, fishing pole, and more than often with his bare hands or fists. My siblings and I became each other’s protector.

My father soon lost custody of us, and as a result I went to live with my uncle. Living in a two-bedroom apartment with my uncle’s girlfriend, who gave me the responsibility of mothering her child and being her maid, did not last long. At the age of 12 I went into foster care.

Sister Dawn, Mum Linda and Grandma Judy with Carmen

This was the first time that I learned what family was about … what it stood for. I learned the importance of trust, loyalty, education and love from my foster parents.  I became part of a family that instantly valued me and took me in as their child … nothing less.

Through all these struggles, the important lesson that I have learned is that no matter what obstacles we may face, what truly matters is what we do with ourselves at the end of those obstacles.  If it weren’t for my unfortunate circumstances, my foster parent and family (I do consider my “family”), my siblings, and DCF’s Independent Living Program, I would not be the person I am today:  Compassionate, independent and dedicated to make a positive change in this world.

My advice to others who are going through struggles or have just overcome them is to never give up hope. Hope is what keeps us sane and enables us to dream and aspire. Hope gives us the courage to carry on.

31 Days of Family Activities

Post by DCF Director of Digital Media and Outreach Niki Pocock

We recently launched “31 Days of Family Activities,” which features a fun idea to do with your family and friends every day in December. Each one is easy and inexpensive or no cost.

Every tip has a photo to go along with it, which meant we had to get a little crafty. Luckily, several people in our office have kids, so it was a pretty fun project and we had an instant focus group :)

My daughters' beautiful place mats as a part of the 31 Days of Family Activities for the holdiays.

We worked on holiday place mats  bird feeders, hand trees, scavenger hunts and more.  I laughed when one of our employee’s daughters said, “Mommy, how did you learn to do art?” The kids were super excited and had a blast. Parent/kid focus group reaction: These activities are awesome!

We encourage you to check out these 31 ideas and take advantage of spending time with family this holiday season. Spending intentional time with family develops a foundation for relationships so families can have open communication. It is good for all families, no matter how old its members are or if it is made up of biological relatives, friends, mentors, kids or adults.

  • Children whose parents are involved with their lives have fewer behavioral problems, do better in school and have higher self esteem. Often times, kids think little things are big things. By listening to small concerns they have, they know you will be there when something big happens.
  • Adults who stay connected with a parental figure or mentor have an emotional support system and somewhere to go for advice. Many adult parent-child relationships turn into lifelong friendships. Maintaining a positive relationship can be mutually beneficial.
  • The holidays are a good time for spouses to take their relationship beyond usual day-to-day routines. You may have some extra time to walk in a state park or talk about your goals for the future.  Create new traditions together, laugh together and strengthen your bond.

Be sure to check out the ideas at www.myflfamilies.com/31days. We will also be featuring them on our Pinterest board at www.pinterest.com/myflfamilies and we’d love for you to repin to your boards.

Happy Holidays!

Operation Santa “Cause”

A mother adopted four children, three of whom have since been diagnosed with Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), an inherited disorder. Two children have died. They are seeking help with funeral and Christmas present expenses. Details at bottom of this blog post.

Yard work for a disabled adult. Deposit money for a new apartment for a struggling family. A donated car for two former foster children. Holiday gifts for children.

These are just a few things that families in need across Florida are looking for this holiday season. We’re hoping to partner with community organizations to fulfill all of the wishes in our Operation Santa Cause campaign.

DCF’s mission is to help those most in need. That job is daunting. We investigated 188,000 child abuse cases and helped more than 62,000 children in child welfare last year. More than 4.8 million people receive public assistance, more than 52,000 Floridians were served in our domestic violence shelters, and more than 54,300 people are reported homeless.

However, the most exciting part of being in the business of helping others is when we are allowed the opportunity to witness communities helping their neighbors. Our Partners for Promise initiative, which kicked off one year ago, now has more than 1,550 local partner organizations signed up to provide real change in the lives of others.

Below are 12 stories from individuals and families in this state who need a helping hand this holiday season. These are 12 individuals or families whose challenges we have witnessed firsthand. If you know of anyone in your community who would like to make a difference this year, please contact us at the number provided below each story. We will then connect you with the local organizations making these wishes come true this holiday season.

The families listed below are just a small sample of the people in need this season. Contact your local foster agency to find out ways to help foster children in your area.

•    Leon County: A single mother of three who is currently homeless, is diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and her youngest is diagnosed with ADHD. Her oldest son serves our country through the U.S. Army and her second oldest lives with other family. She provides direct care for her youngest child who is 11 years old. The mother isn’t looking for a handout; she is simply looking for a helping hand. A home safe and secure and just enough for her family to live in, instead of with friends, in cars and in local shelters. She believes she can make monthly payments, but has no money to set up a new home.
Wish: A place that she, her son and her mom can call home. They need help with the deposit and initial rent – total $1,200.
Contact: Nicole Stookey, 850-488-0568, or Nicole_Stookey@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Escambia County: The Carver Community Center in Escambia County is 100 percent funded by community donations. The facility provides a safe place for children to go after school and during the summer, meals for 150 to 200 children each day, and also tutoring services for children year round.
Wish: The Center needs Internet service and 15 computers to replace the current computers that are old and very slow. To assist the children in developing reading skills, the Center uses “Ultimate Speed Reader” software. Each license costs around $35 and they need 15. The cost of a computer varies but is about $650 each for Dell All In One computers. The Internet service is about $100 each month.
Contact: Nicole Stookey, 850-488-0568, or Nicole_Stookey@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Jacksonville area: A single mom works full time and takes care of her 18-year-old son who has Muscular Dystrophy and hearing loss. The mom strives to meet the demanding needs of having a special needs child. She recently was advised that her son’s teacher had been working with him using an iPad and that he had really developed an interest in using it. They now believe that it would be beneficial as a new way for him to communicate. It could open a whole new world for him. Such a potentially useful piece of technology is not funded by insurance, supplied by the school or affordable for the family themselves, so obtaining one is difficult.
Wish: An iPad for this amazing young man to call his own.
Contact: John Harrell, 904-723-5470, or John_Harrell@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Marion County: A disabled adult needs a new roof for her home and is unable to afford the cost. Her roof leaks severely when it rains and as a result the home has active mold. This is detrimental to the client’s health as she is on oxygen due to respiratory issues.
Wish: An organization or group of individuals willing to assist with repairing her roof and removing the mold. Estimated cost for roof repair is thousands of dollars. Professional skills could also be donated.
Contact: Kristi Gray (407) 317-7042 or Kristin_Gray@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Orlando area: A woman adopted a sibling group of four several years ago. At the time of the adoption, she knew one of the siblings passed away from a degenerative brain disorder. Since that time, three of the four children have been diagnosed with Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), an inherited disorder, and almost always fatal within 10 years of symptoms. In January, one of the children died at the age of 13 and in October, the 8 year old passed away. The mother lost her job and has since taken a pay cut working a job from home to continue to care for the other two children.
Wish: Provide holiday joy for the two children that are still in her home. Financial assistance to alleviate the outstanding $1,700 in funeral expenses, $500 to cover the cost of the family’s holiday gifts on layaway at Kmart.
Contact: Kristi Gray (407) 317-7042 or Kristin_Gray@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Orlando area: A single mother of four children between the ages of 2 and 14 has no car and travels with all of her children by walking or public transportation. She currently works in a plant nursery. She is a humble, hard-working mother who is grateful for the opportunity to work and provide a safe home for herself and her children. These hardships have not prevented her from ensuring her children attend school regularly.
Wish: Child care for the younger siblings would help and ensure they are in a safe and nurturing environment while their mom is at work. A licensed child care facility could donate up to a year of care. Or an organization or individual could provide financial assistance to keep the children in quality child care.
Contact: Kristi Gray (407) 317-7042 or Kristin_Gray@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Polk County area: A disabled adult would benefit from someone helping to maintain her yard. Her grass is not yet a code violation, but there are very unkempt, high weeds and there are bushes that need to be trimmed away from doors and windows.
Wish: An individual or organization willing to donate lawn services.
Contact: Kristi Gray (407) 317-7042 or Kristin_Gray@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Hillsborough County: A young single parent with two small kids who is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is now living in a roach-infested and crime-ridden apartment complex because she is struggling to start her new life here in America. She is working at a local hotel and very involved in a local church and is an incredible example of resiliency.
Wish: She and her family have identified a possible house to rent. To make the move, they need help with the deposit, first month’s rent and transferring utilities. A total of $2,500 would cover costs.
Contact: Teresa Durdaller, 813-337-5854 or Teresa_Durdaller@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Broward County: With each passing year, a 16-year-old boy’s dreams of finding a forever family dwindled. However, through the work of a team of persistent social workers and case managers, the young man’s older sister was identified as a possible adoptive parent. The new adoptive mom is 21 years old and is a former foster child herself. She is working to support herself and her 2-year-old son. Despite having a lot on her plate, she adopted her teenage brother. Since the young man has been adopted, he is thriving. However, transportation is a barrier. The case manager has worked with the sister to help her budget for fuel and insurance, but the cost of a vehicle purchase remains out of reach.
Wish: A donated car would put the icing on the cake so this newly reunited family can continue on their path to success.
Contact: Paige Patterson-Hughes, 954-202-3209, or Paige_Patterson-Hughes@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Broward County: Two sisters, one 16 and the other 13, are currently being raised by their grandmother due to their mother’s mental health and substance abuse issues. The family is living well below poverty. The 16-year-old has an emotional disability and the majority of her disability funds are used to help her grandmother pay rent and other bills. The girls slept on the floor prior to receiving beds from the community-based care organization ChildNet.
Wish: The holidays would be extra special if the girls could get a room makeover. The
girls need a dresser, curtains, sheets and other small items for their room. Estimated cost for the room makeover is around $2,500.
Contact: Paige Patterson-Hughes, 954-202-3209, or Paige_Patterson-Hughes@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Miami-Dade County: A single working mother adopted her nephew and another foster child. They are very good boys, very well-mannered and do well in school. The mother is struggling since her sister moved out and she cannot afford rent on her own. She has been looking for another place, but has not been able to find anything decent for the boys to live in and not disrupt their school. Even under these pressures, she continues to fundraise for foster kids and is a moral support to the foster and adoptive families that participate in the local foster parent association.
Wish: Rent assistance and holiday gifts for the boys. Rent for six months is estimated to be $6,000. Toys for the two boys are estimated to be $500.
Contact: Lissette Valdes-Valle, 786-257-5056, or Lissette_Valdes-Valle@dcf.state.fl.us

•    Miami-Dade: A 24-year-old father who grew up in foster care and was never adopted had a baby with a woman that had a drug problem. The baby was placed in the care of a foster parent when he was born. The foster parent co-parented with the birth father until he was able to get custody of his baby boy who is now 18 months old. The birth father is young and has no family support, but he is doing a great job caring for his son on his own. He is searching for a job but has not had any luck.
Wish: Calls from prospective employers about job opportunities would be welcome. Holiday gifts for an 18 month old and help with basic needs would also help to make the holiday special. Gifts $300; basic needs $1,000.
Contact: Lissette Valdes-Valle, 786-257-5056, or Lissette_Valdes-Valle@dcf.state.fl.us

The best days of our lives

Guest post by Lisa Alvarez, an adoptive and foster mother in South Florida. She has received multiple commendations from local child welfare associations and politicians for her work as a child advocate, and appeared on The Ricki Lake Show Nov. 29.

Lisa, Ricki Lake and show producer Rachal

Back in 1998, after trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, my husband Jorge and I decided to adopt a baby.  After waiting 2 years with no luck, our mentor suggested we foster to adopt.

We first received a little baby boy who was adopted by his aunt.  In the fall of 2000, at one of my monthly mentoring meetings, we met a beautiful baby girl named Natasha. I knew the second I laid my eyes on her that she was the daughter I had always dreamed about. She was placed in our home at 3 months old, and after 2 years and many prayers, we were finally able to adopt her! That day was, by far, the best day of our lives!  After the adoption, we let our fostering license expire as our lives felt complete.

About 3 months later, I returned to the mentoring meetings as they were very informative and provided a wealth of information about caring for my bi-racial daughter.  My mentor asked me why I had let my license expire as there were many babies ready to be released from the hospitals with no home to go to. That was all I needed to hear.

I had my license reinstated by the next month and have lovingly fostered more than 90 beautiful children in the past 12 years! Our strengths are caring for newborn babies, and I still get goose bumps every time I’m asked to pick up a new baby at the hospital.

Five years ago I decided to care for children with medical issues. My first placement was a gorgeous little boy who weighed only 1 pound, 5 ounces at birth. His severe prematurely left him with many health issues, including Hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy & chronic lung disease. He has endured open heart surgery and brain surgery twice. He is unable to tolerate any food by mouth and gets all his nutrition from a gastrostomy tube in his belly. He can’t walk or talk, and he communicates with his bright eyes and beautiful smile. We adopted him on National Adoption Day 2011, which was the second best day of our lives! He fit in perfectly with our family and I can’t imagine my life without him!

Fostering has been a wonderful, rewarding experience for me and my family. It has bought us closer together and made us more aware of the importance of caring for each other. I hope to be able to continue caring for many more children in the future!