“The work of our department is challenging. We are the safety net for Florida’s most vulnerable children and families. But with the challenges of our work come great rewards. Our vision is this – to deliver world-class and continuously improving service at the level and quality that we would demand and expect for our own families.” — Secretary Mike Carroll
Last month, two DCF child protective investigators initiated an investigation at a home where a 4-year-old was allegedly living in unhealthy conditions. The father answered the door and initially would not allow them into the home, but with persistent encouragement he relented and let them in. The home was filthy, with human waste and trash strewn around the home. The father appeared to be going through severe withdrawals, and the mother was lying on the couch completely covered under a blanket. The mother was incoherent and visibly unwell, with severe bruising on her face, arms and legs.
The CPIs called 911 and at the hospital the mother was diagnosed as suffering from seizures. Doctors said her health was so poor that without intervention she faced death.
The child was placed with her grandmother, and a couple of days later, the child asked one of the CPIs to attend her 5th birthday party. The CPI attended the party and then accompanied the child and her grandmother to visit the mother in the hospital. The mother has since been discharged from the hospital. The grandmother cleaned the house, and a relative is staying with the parents in the home to provide support and assistance. The child is thriving in her grandmother’s care.
It takes a lot of heart to do this job well.
Guest post by Mark Bono, who was adopted as a child.
I’m 47 years old, and I’ve gone my whole life knowing I was adopted. I grew up in a supportive family with two adoptive parents and two siblings, but every time I looked in the mirror I didn’t see the same features of the family I grew up with had. As a kid this didn’t bother me much, but later in my life something started to cultivate inside me. I realized I needed to find my biological family.
When I was 24, I opened my heart to the possibility of finding my biological family. I tried the hospital for any records of my mother, but there was no trace of her. I still wanted to find her, but after my experience I was so discouraged and distraught that I put the thought of finding her away.
During the next two decades I got married, I did what I wanted to do with my life and became successful. However, every now and then, while watching a lifetime movie about some crazy family reunion, I couldn’t help but wonder where I got my height from or my big forehead. I just felt as if something was missing.
I started wrestling with my past. I wanted to be proud of where I came from and know why I have certain mannerisms. I had no biological connection to anyone. I couldn’t help but come back to the thought of, “Why was I not loved and why was I not wanted by my biological family?” This frustration within my heart and the lack of answers had caused conflict in my life and within my relationships.
I thought maybe I’d go my whole life with my family out there and never meet them. All I knew was that my parents were from Jacksonville. I feared maybe they were dead or perhaps they are horrible people. Maybe they are poor or sick. Maybe our reunion would resemble something like a Jerry Springer show.
But then in 2013, I talked to my wife and finally decided that I wanted to find my biological identity for certain. We talked first to a private investigator who led us to resources, including the Florida Adoption Reunion Registry (FARR). Hopeful, I mailed in my FARR registration and expected to maybe hear something in the next few months.
Days later I got a call back from the woman helping me with my case. She said that she found records of my mother and she’s trying to get in touch with her. In that moment I was so excited, yet it was tough not knowing what to expect next. But that afternoon, the woman from FARR called again and told me that they contacted my mother and that she was interested in talking to me.
The phone rang on my way home from work with a Jacksonville area code. I knew it had to be her. I picked up and heard my biological mother’s voice say, “Mark, this is Angela.”
That night, my mom and I talked for seven hours, only taking breaks to use the restroom. I found out that she was a nurse at the age of 69, and lives in a nice home near the beach with my aunt and she has a lot of siblings. We caught up about each other’s lives and before hanging up, I asked her what I needed to know my whole life. I asked why she gave me up.
She told me that she fell in love with my father in the mid-1960s. Six months after they started dating, she found out he was married and had a family of his own. After getting pregnant with a married man, she couldn’t bring herself to tell her family, so she decided to move in with her sister in South Florida during her pregnancy and give the baby up for adoption. She said she thought it was the best decision for the child.
That weekend, my wife and I drove up to meet her and my aunt in person. Meeting on the phone was life-changing in itself, but meeting her in person was a whole different story. That missing piece was fulfilled. When I look at her, I can tell I’m her son.
To my surprise, I met my mom, my aunt and many other family members that weekend too. In just a short time, I went from having no biological family to meeting 10-12 people who looked like me, talked like me and shared my genes. Over the next few months, while back in Tampa, I kept meeting new family members though the phone. I found out that I have 10 first cousins around my age—all who are accepting of me as part of the family. It feels like I had been there all along.
Eventually, I needed to introduce my adoptive mom to my biological mom. I had to learn how to integrate both of these women in my life. I still call my adoptive mom ‘Mom’ because she was and is, and always will be the woman who raised me. I call my biological mom ‘Angelina,’ since that is how we met as grown adults.
Now, my family is bigger than ever. I know I can’t get back the time I spent in my life without my family, but I take every chance to talk and be with them that I can. My story continues as I find more family members, including my dad. I hope that I can meet my half brothers on his side one day. But until then, I will embrace all the new ties I have to my family members and the family who raised me, making as many memories with them as I can.
By Kathy Wintons, Adoptive mom and Administrative Secretary at Children’s Home Society of Florida.
I met my daughter, Myra, for the first time when she was 14. I was transporting her to the airport where she was going to fly out and visit a potential adoptive parent. After her return she decided the parent wasn’t a match for her. She wanted to wait, pray and dream for a father and mother that was a good fit for her.
My husband and I were not interested in teenager. I always preferred caring for younger kids. My husband and I always knew that someday we would adopt. We took the in-depth adoption training course (MAPP) so we would be ready to adopt, but as the years went by and not thinking about adopting. I was asked to be Myra’s mentor and, eventually, I agreed.
Over the next two years, we realized Myra had become a part of our family. There was never a moment where it clicked, it was a gradual thing. Eventually, we just couldn’t imagine our lives without her. My husband and I prayed about it and we decided we can do this. We can be her mother and father.
I do think there was a moment where Myra realized she wanted to be in our family. My husband and I took her to her high school’s football game. There we were, sitting in the stands with the other families. I think that is the moment that she truly felt she had found her forever family.
Myra officially became a part of our family on April 9, 2014. The attorney said he had never seen so many people in the courtroom before – family, coworkers, friends and case managers that had helped her to get to her forever family; there were so many people there to surround us with love and support.
Myra is an A/B student. She is a wonderful athlete – she’s currently on the volleyball and basketball teams and hopes to get back into track as well. Her dream is to become a nurse and background in law.
I always thought I would adopt a baby or toddler, but Myra is perfect for us. Teens like Myra desire to have a family, to be loved – and they have a lot of love to give. Every day is not always a great day. But when she gives us all the love she can give and says, “Mommy I love you,” It makes everything wonderful!
Like all children, teenagers need to know that they are loved and that the love is forever. However, If you are flexible, don’t take yourself (or them) too seriously, and can negotiate firm but loving guidelines, this can be an ideal situation for you both. Although at times it seemed less time consuming because teens are more independent, they may require more emotional work for a time. Raising a teenager into adulthood may have bumps along the way, but the joy of knowing you are making a difference in a young adults life is a lifetime achievement for you and that child.
Guest post by Terran Vandiver, who grew up in kinship/relative care in Southeast Florida.
My history isn’t a pretty one—my childhood was full of tragic and traumatizing experiences. You know what they say, “it takes a village to raise a child,” well, I didn’t have that. I was living on the edge of the poverty line.
I had an alcoholic mom and an abusive stepdad. I was the oldest brother in my family, which made me the man of the house and I had to take on a lot of responsibility of being a man before I was able to.
Imagine trying to defend your mom and sisters from molestation when you don’t really have the strength to fight back against your stepdad. Imagine losing every fight. I wanted so badly to show my little brothers that there is a good man somewhere in this world.
One day, something in me just told me to open the front door and run down the street and call 9-1-1 and see if they could help me. And a few minutes later, police cars came and basically took away the devil in my life.
After that, I got referred to a program called HANDY by one of my caseworkers. HANDY felt like home because I was simply able to relate there. They helped me understand that what I went through is a worldwide issue. I didn’t like going to school. I didn’t feel like I could connect or that people understood me.
But people understood me at HANDY. They understood that I was just as lost as them. And we all had a hope that we could overcome the dilemmas in our households.
We talked about managing money, time, and relationships, and transitioning into adulthood. Now, I’ve graduated from not just high school, but also Florida Atlantic University. I was the only person from my block and from my family to go to college. I broke the limitations of my stereotype.
My successes are based on the hearts that I’m able to positively influence. My salary is defined by the empowerment that I’m able to help youth experience. And my asset is the revitalization of my community, so that we can all comprehend the necessity and benefits of the universal connection, which impacts us all. #ITCANBEDONE