Author Archives: DCF

Celebrating the Dream

Mike & Foster MomGuest post by Mike Williams, entrepreneur and former foster youth

February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the history and contributions of African Americans. I have been fortunate to learn great things about my heritage, and how so many African Americans helped paved the way for me.

Two of my favorite African American heroes are Dr. Steve Perry and Les Brown. Dr. Perry is the founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, which has sent 100 percent of its predominantly low-income, minority, first generation high school graduates to four-year colleges every year since its first class graduated in 2006. I had the honor of meeting Dr. Perry at the 2015 National Faith Symposium and he made an impact on my life forever. Secondly, Les Brown is a man who not only found the greatness inside himself, but helped thousands of others as well, including myself. He is a former foster kid like me, and is now one of the most sought-after speakers in the world and I aspire to impact thousands just like him.

Like these great men, perhaps my story can inspire others to never give up on their dreams. I arrived in foster care around the age of 9 because my mother was on drugs for many years and could not take care of me. I never knew my father. The amount of pain I endured as a young child was traumatic. I went from being a little angel, who thought I was a precious gift from God for my mom to love forever, to a very disrespectful and disobedient child who hated adults. So while most kids my age were playing football, video games and going to movies… my world was being turned upside down. I was placed in more than 20 foster homes and attended more than 10 different schools. I remained in the foster care system until aging out at 18.

Changes in my behavior and emotions paved a rocky road for me. I was sad, alone and depressed. I even attempted to take my life and end it all. But I’m still standing.

I believe I’m a great example of why you don’t have to be a product of your circumstances. I’ve graduated from Tallahassee Community College with my AA Degree and am continuing my studies for my Bachelor’s in Business Management. I’ve helped launch and market several successful businesses and I’m a growing motivational/inspirational speaker.

I was a child destined for failure until amazing people came into my life like my foster mom, Pamela Benton, and foster dad, Matt McKibbin. When faced with some of my life’s hardest challenges, these two people were there to uplift and guide me. They embody the true meaning of committed and dedicated parents and I couldn’t be more honored to be a part of their families.

I believe we can all make a difference in the lives of children and families. African Americans should be encouraged to become foster and adoptive parents. To me, that’s how real black history is made.

#InspiringSelfSuccess

#ItCanBeDone

The Porch Light

Child holding head in hands
Guest post by Dr. Jerry Haag, Ph.D., CFP
President/CEO of Florida Baptist Children Homes, The Porch Light and Orphan’s Heart

A common reaction when we see, experience or hear about something repulsive or tragic is to ask the question, “Why?”

Pleading for answers and reflecting on the cause is as normal as expecting the sun to come out tomorrow. But the questions we should be asking as it pertains to innocent children being sexually exploited and trafficked in Florida should really look more like, “What now?”

Did you know that in the past year there were more than 1,200 reports of human trafficking to the Florida Abuse Hotline? Although we’ve made great progress in two short years, the number of available, safe beds for victims of human trafficking does not yet meet the need.

At The Porch Light, we are proud to operate a safe home that helps combat that reality. We exist to serve victims like 13-year-old Mary* who came to our safe home earlier this year.

Mary’s father died when she was young and her stepfather was physically and emotionally abusive, so she ran away. One night, when Mary was sobbing on the bench at a bus stop, a man drove by who promised to “take care of her.”

She was forced into prostitution and her life was so consumed with pain and deceit that she turned to alcohol to numb reality.

When Mary arrived at the safe home, she looked twice her age. She was bruised and broken, pleading for a better life.

Working with partners like DCF, law enforcement agencies and other child welfare organizations, we facilitate long-term trauma care for victims like Mary, while pouring our hearts into prevention efforts to stop this gruesome trade.

Our safe home’s expert staff focuses on helping girls overcome the abuse they have endured and works to redefine their self-worth, which has been grossly distorted. Sometimes it takes three to four months in a safe environment for a victim to talk about their traumatic past.

Utilizing therapeutic horses , highly trained coaches and mentors, and individualized care, The Porch Light helps heal scars that no child should ever have.

We are grateful to live in a state where forceful steps continue to be made to get predators off the streets, and we applaud those who have been bold enough to call for stronger measures to protect innocent children.

On January 1, House Bill 369 went into effect. It requires signage and advertisements in a plethora of public places to help Florida residents and visitors understand the real and present dangers of sex trafficking.

This year, The Porch Light reached more than 21,000 people through advocacy and prevention efforts and we believe in educating and equipping people so they can understand common signs of sex trafficking and make the difference our children so desperately need.

Now that you know you can make a difference in keeping children from being sexually exploited, I have a question for you: “What now?”

Let us take bold steps together to care for these innocent children and eradicate this heinous crime from our communities.

The eyes of twenty-three children

image of a persons eyes Guest post by Emily Meadows

At 15, a part of me died, the part that was inherently selfish and conceited. In that empty space grew a form of myself who was constantly looking out for the wellbeing of others, forgoing my desires for the needs of the children we welcomed into our home. When I was 15, my parents became foster parents.

This was a very strange decision on their part, seeing as they were two years from turning 40 and their two biological children were already teenagers. But God works in strange ways. Thus began our family’s journey into the depths of the foster care system and the hidden world of social work.

For a very long time, it was hard to decide whether or not I was going to be directly involved in the lives of these children. At some point though, the heart of God and the love of Christ took over. Every moment I spent with these children was a blessing, a burst of purples and lime greens and pinks, radiating with joy, excitement, and perhaps most importantly, hope and safety on their part.

It was a blessing in disguise, and those moments were some of my happiest. Most nights ended with me helping the children we had taken into our home to learn how to spell, or how to write a complete sentence. One night in particular, our oldest child came into my room and asked me about something her classmate had said.

“Emily, this kid in my class said today that he doesn’t believe God works miracles.” I set my anatomy textbook aside and invited her to sit beside me, “What do you mean? What were the exact words he said?” He said that he believes in God, and that God created the world. “Well, what do you think about it?” I don’t think he’s right, because if God didn’t still do really cool work, me and my sister wouldn’t be here with you, Kate, Aunt Jennifer and Uncle John.”

But at the end of every child’s stay, it never got easier to say goodbye. In fact, I believe it got harder. Every child seemed to assimilate into our family faster. Their backgrounds almost forced them to, because for the first time in a very long time these children felt loved and completely safe.

I looked into the eyes of twenty-three children in the past five years and I have felt my heart break twenty-three times. But thankfully, not every story has a heart wrenching ending, and not every child leaves. Three years in, I stood in a courtroom before a judge, crying once again, at the end of a chapter in a child’s life. Three years later, he was not just another foster child.

He was my brother — a tried and true Meadows — forever and for always.

H.O.P.E: Hold On Possibilities Exist

Guest post by Dana Foglesong, recovery and integration specialist in the DCF Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

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There was a time in my life I felt my only options were death or a miserable existence; death seemed more appealing. I struggled to maintain a life in the community after being diagnosed with a mental illness. My pain was so deep that I had lost all hope. Hope is a powerful, yet tricky thing.  Hope is a necessary motivator to take personal responsibility for your life, to overcome obstacles, and to move forward.

Hope has a way of building momentum to push us through even the darkest days and roadblocks in our lives. A spark of hope was lit within me when I had the opportunity to work with a Certified Recovery Peer Specialist as part of my treatment. My peer specialist struggled with similar intense emotions and experiences, but was living successfully in recovery with a family, job and home. He was living proof that possibilities existed for my life despite a diagnosis. Through his support, encouragement, and strengths based coaching, I was able to reclaim my life.

Today, hundreds of people in recovery from mental health and substance use conditions work within our systems as peer specialists. I am one of them. We are often on the front lines of engaging individuals who have been labelled difficult to reach. We see the person first, not the illness. We help our peers focus on their resiliency instead of fragility. We provide support from the perspective of having shared similar life experiences and intimately understand the pain, loss and desperation those experiences bring. We are able to say with confidence, “I am the evidence that you can recover, so have hope and hold on.”

During Recovery Month, my hope is that we start changing the narrative about people living with mental health and substance use challenges. Recovery is achievable no matter the person or condition. The evidence is all around us. Peer Specialists are just one example. Perhaps you are someone who has overcome great challenges related to mental health or addiction issues. If so, I encourage you to share your story. Your story of recovery may be what sparks hope in someone else to keep fighting for a better future. If you are someone who is lacking hope, I encourage you to reach out for support. In the midst of the storm it can be easy to believe the lie that we are alone and that no one cares.

The truth is there is hope, so hold on because possibilities exist.

I’m living proof

Guest post by Wesley Evans    

Wesley Evans PhotoI was once paralyzed with fear and hopelessness. It is common for those living with mental illness to live a life without hope. I spent years trying new medications, along with a string of doctors, fading in and out of various programs, never engaged or inspired. Not being able to hold down a job, I was eventually told to apply for Social Security Disability because it was likely that I would not be able to work again. By this time I had resigned myself to the thought and belief that this was how my entire life was going to be. I had given up the shred of hope that existed in my youth.

After years on Social Security and an unstable life, I found a community support group for people like myself, living with a mental illness. I suddenly found myself surrounded by my peers. I was surrounded by people who wanted to be well and move forward in their lives. After finding and attending the support group weekly, along with the right medications, I began to make progress. I found that along with them I began to improve. I began to see hope after years of hopelessness. Little did I know I was laying the foundations of a solid support system.

In this network of my peers, I found an opportunity to help others who were living the life I had lived. In 2006 I was among the first Certified Recovery Peer Specialists in the State of Florida.  For nearly 10 years I have been working in a field that I love, assisting others who were trapped and struggling to navigate the mental health system, like myself. I have found a passion, a purpose, to help others who live with mental illness and to be a voice for the voiceless. I have built a great life for myself, one that I am proud of.

Recovery from mental illness is possible. I’m living proof!