Category Archives: Northeast Region

Watching her face light up

Guest post by Kay Gore, former caseworker and Florida Youth Leadership Academy mentor who adopted her FYLA mentee, Brittany.

Kay and Brittany with Judge Foster on the day Brittany officially became a part of Kay’s family.

During my second year as a mentor in the Florida Youth Leadership Academy (FYLA), I was blessed to meet a wonderful young lady, Brittany. We both come from different worlds – me a single mom who had called Jacksonville home for 10 years, and her a country girl from Nassau County. Seemingly there was nothing we had in common.

She was in foster care like the majority of the kids I had come in contact with over the years and they all had a stereotypical view  about their case workers and administrators – that this is a  job and this is what we are supposed to do care about them.

Nine months we were in the car together traveling and talking as we went to and from FYLA events. She was able to share her dreams and desires with me. I saw a young person who was begging to be a child again. 

I asked one day if she would consider being adopted outside of her race, and she said that she did not care who adopted her as long as they loved her. The seed was planted. Time went on and she was available  for adoption and there were families  interested , but they all fell through.

She graduated from FYLA and life went on. Eventually, I left the child welfare field,  but I still wondered about that smiling little girl from Nassau County who I had shared so much with and had grown to care about. I learned that she had been having a hard time. God had placed on my heart that day two years ago that this little girl was supposed to be a part of my family. So the process began to make that happen.

When I was her mentor, I saw her face light up when she visited her first college campus and fell in love with the idea that she could sit at one of those desks. Or the day the shy girl that did not like to speak in public, voiced her opinion in a room full of people. There were a lot of firsts that I was able to experience as her mentor.

fyla2Now, I will be able to experience them as her mom.  Her first day of college, her college graduation, the day she gets married and the day way down the road that she might make me a grandparent.  All of this would not have been possible if I had not taken the time to really get to know and serve a young person that I came in contact with on daily basis in the child welfare field.  Many say I am just a caseworker and I can’t save them all. Not all will be saved, but it will just take that one to show the others that there are people  out there who care about them and want them to succeed in life.  So if you take the time to mentor a youth, you will learn so much more about the young people  we serve than what is in the case files.

For more information about adoption and children available for adoption in Florida, visit www.adoptflorida.org or call 1-800-962-3678. 

A Hero

Guest post by Pam Buckham, Safety Program Manager in the DCF Northeast Region, Office of Child Care Regulation & Background Screening.

Taki Starkes receiving an award from DCF Northeast Region Regional Director Dave Abramowitz for her quick action to protect her students.

Taki Starkes receiving an award from DCF Northeast Region Regional Director Dave Abramowitz for her quick action to protect her students.

Taki Starkes, owner of Juzt Kidz Learning Center in Jacksonville noticed a strange and disconcerting smell in her child care center. She acted immediately and followed the steps in her emergency evacuation plan by first calling 911 and then taking her children outside to safety. When the fire department arrived shortly after, they determined that there were dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the building. Luckily, given Ms. Starkes’ short response time, all of the children survived the incident. Several of the children exhibited symptoms typical of carbon monoxide poisoning, which could have been much more life-threatening had they stayed in the building any longer.

Juzt Kidz Learning Center is located in a strip mall that includes three other child care centers. Two of those centers also had dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide and were evacuated. Upon inspection, the fire department determined that a construction crew in an adjoining suite had left generators running indoors and the carbon monoxide had spread through the air ducts.

Ms. Starkes was honored by DCF Regional Director, Dave Abramowitz and given a certificate of appreciation for being a hero. Mr. Abramowitz told the children at Juzt Kidz that “sometimes good people turn out to be a hero because they do something extra special to help someone else.”

Situations like these remind everyone from homeowners to child care providers to perform routine check-ups of our carbon monoxide detectors and also reeducate ourselves on the symptoms characteristic of carbon monoxide exposure. Initial symptoms include; headache, fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath or dizziness. Severe symptoms include; mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness and ultimately death.

To prevent carbon monoxide leaks, make sure all appliances in your home or office building are installed properly and according to a manufacturer’s instructions, check your carbon monoxide alarm every six months — replacing the battery as needed, and never operate a portable generator in an enclosed area or leave a car running in a garage.

Need tips on how to find the perfect child care facility for your child? Check out our recent blog post. We wish you a wonderful 2013-2014 school year!

Abused for almost a decade – finding the courage to leave

Guest post by DCF Child Protective Investigator Angela Brown and Child Protective Investigations Supervisor Julia Johnson in Suwannee County

domestic violenceA mother had been in a very violent relationship for nine years.  She had quit fighting back.  When her husband found out about the abuse report she filed against him, he told her he was going to kill her.

She told us she was scared and didn’t want DCF involved.  But we told her that as bad as the domestic violence is now, it will only get worse if she doesn’t get help. The abuse would continue to break down her self-esteem.  She needed to get help to protect herself and her children.

The woman’s mother is her support system and worked with us to encourage her and her children to stay at a domestic violence shelter until it was safe for her to return home. The woman was confused and really didn’t know how to go about saving herself.

A victim’s advocate at the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office help her fill out an injunction against her husband and stood by her side in court. We both gave the woman our phone numbers and encouraged her to call at any time if she needed help.

Now she no longer has to worry about what will happen when her husband comes home from work.  Her stomach was no longer in knots.  She was living again, for the first time in a long time.  She said she had seen the change in her children – they are calmer, happier, laughing more, not as angry and not fighting with each other as much.

The changes in her life are obvious.  Her appearance is different – she has confidence, is happy, smiles, talks and laughs.  She is working to get her GED … and she has expressed interest in someday becoming a Child Protective Investigator.

Day 3: Rising Up

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.

Florida Youth SHINE

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.

Florida Youth SHINE

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.