Guest post by DCF Director of Digital Media and Outreach Niki Pocock. This is the last in her blog series following her first trip to DCF’s Child Protection Summit.
After hearing from Judo Olympian Kayla Harrison and Secret Millionaire Marcus Lemonis, the Chairman and CEO of Camping World and Good Sam Enterprises (hoping to get guest blog posts from them in the near future!), I took a minute to talk to some of the kids in foster care who were at the Summit.
There was an awesome group from Florida Youth SHINE, which helps kids in foster care or aging out of foster care. Most of them were vice presidents or presidents of their local chapters, so I was seriously in the presence of greatness. I loved that one young man, Brandon in Southwest Florida, told me that when he was invited to be a part of starting a new Youth Shine chapter he said, “Yeah, as long as I can be president.” How cool is that?!? That’s how to do it!
And there was a young lady from Pinellas who was placed in foster care as soon as she was born. The social worker she met when she was 8 adopted her when she was 12. She is involved with helping the other kids in foster care and her defining moment was when she attended the Eckerd Wilderness Camp at age 17. She saw how the younger girls looked up to her and she realized that her story made an impact on them. She was also inspired by the camp staff, who truly wanted to help her and the other campers. She now wants to be a social worker and also plans to get a law degree. She currently attends St. Petersburg College.
A young man named Edward from Miami may have said it best: “Who better to help them than me? They can hear from another foster youth who has been through what they have been through. Felt the depression. I understand them and have experienced it all first-hand.”
Another young woman, Tracey from Fort Myers, who aged out of the foster system in March. She said that she got into Youth Shine because they kept calling her … and calling her … and calling her. She eventually gave in and attended a meeting – and she was hooked. She found out tons of info, like that she could have a Guardian ad Litem and she could initiate going to court if she needed to. She wanted to be in a position to help other kids learn more about the services available to them.
Then I spoke to Alan Abramowitz, the Executive Director of Florida’s Guardian ad Litem program. He told me about a 17-year-old kid in foster care he met who had not seen his family in two years. Alan located his cousin, who was like the foster child’s sibling, and set up a little reunion. He said it was one of the most emotional things he has ever seen. He’s seen children change the entire direction of cases in the courtroom. Hearing the child say they love their parents even after everything they’ve been through has often given parents the strength and motivation to completely turn their lives around and become great parents.
I spoke to Samuel Morris, who licenses foster homes in Northeast Florida. He said he makes sure the homes he approves for kids will really be homes, not just a place they land. He told me about a lady who showed him a hallway full of children she had fostered and told him, “These are my kids.” Homes like that help the kids reach their highest potential.
And then I met Tina, a child protection investigator executive in Santa Rosa and Walton counties. She said that her day is filled with positives, and was even when she was a CPI in the field. She reunited families, helped parents become real parents, became a mentor to foster children aging out of the system and seen parents get off drugs and back with their kids. She has been to high school graduations and often gets wonderful calls from kids and biological parents, even if they are separated.
My biggest take away from this Summit is how proud I am to be a part of such a wonderful system. The people who work and volunteer in child welfare. Everyone I spoke to had the same thing to say – I am here because I want to help people.