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Report: Give Foster Families More Say

A new report looks at the critical role played by foster parents, in Florida and nationwide. (skvlimkin/morguefile)
A new report looks at the critical role played by foster parents, in Florida and nationwide. (skvlimkin/morguefile)
November 18, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – When children have to be removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect, a new report looks at ways to improve their care by giving foster parents a greater voice. Researchers from The Annie E. Casey Foundation say it's time to elevate the role of foster parents, by giving them the value they deserve as part of the overall child-welfare team.

Dr. Denise Goodman, a child welfare consultant, said those parents who open their homes and hearts to foster children deserve all support and training agencies can provide.

"The first line of therapy and healing is in the foster home, where, on a 24-hour-a-day basis, foster parents are nurturing, loving, caring and healing, said Dr. Goodman. "And they are critical members of the team, since they know the child best."

The report recommends giving foster parents legal protections and empowering them to make everyday decisions about the children in their care, for after-school activities, sports and even haircuts. The report also encourages foster parents to develop close bonds with children in their care. Many have been told in the past to separate themselves emotionally in the event the kids are reunited with their kin.

Kurt Kelly is president and CEO of the Florida Coalition for Children, which works to recruit and train foster families. He said implementing a community-based approach to child welfare in Florida, the only model of its kind so far in the nation, is paying off.

"We've gone from an average of about 1,200 to 1,400 kids a year being adopted, to something like 3,400 to 3,500 kids a year, that means they're getting into a permanent family," he explained.

About 23,000 Florida children are currently in out-of-home placements, an increase over previous years which Kelly said can be attributed in part to a change in how the state assesses risks to a child's safety.

Kelly, who has spent the week appearing across the state with Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Tony Dungy to promote foster parenting and adoption, said it's time to put away outdated stereotypes about the child-welfare system.

"If you watch Hollywood, you'll always hear about how bad foster families were, and that may have been true 20, 30 years ago," he said. "But for the most part, the folks that get into this fostering are doing it because they love kids and they have a mission for children."

Dungy and his wife have fostered many children and adopted seven. He's partnered with the Florida Department of Children and Families to help provide resources to interested families.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL