In her book Instant Mom, Nia Vardalos says, “Anyone who ever wondered how much they could love a child who did not spring from their own loins, know this: it is the same. The feeling of love is so profound, it’s incredible and surprising.” Adoption and fostering is a choice that gives a child somewhere a second chance at the kind of life they deserve. So as we move into November –National Adoption Month – here’s just a little bit to learn about the process and the people behind adoption and foster care in St. Johns County.
THE FAMILY INTEGRITY PROGRAM
Working in conjunction with the State of Florida, the Family Integrity Program is the local government advocate and resource for information on adoption and foster care of at-risk, special needs, abused, and neglected children. Their mission is to work in partnership with the State of Florida and the local community to develop, implement and manage a highly effective, strength-based community-based system of care for abused and neglected children and their families. All situations cannot be categorized with hard and fast guidelines. So the Family Integrity Program provides different types of intervention.
The program offers many services to both the families of at-risk children, prospective adoptive parents, and family after they have adopted. They’ll also coordinate foster home licensing, outreach, dependency case management, in-home counseling, and even independent living for older children at licensed facilities.
To find more information on the Family Integrity Program and their services, visit www.sjcfl.us/fip.
BECOMING A FOSTER PARENT
In St. Johns County, the Family Integrity Program is the only provider of foster care services. They are the only agency in the county that recruits, licenses, services, and maintains Family Foster Homes for the county’s children. Becoming a foster parent is a lengthy and intrusive process, but it is incredibly rewarding to know that you are an advocate for a child in need.
The first step is the Licensing Process. The Licensing of a home is a mutual selection process where the Family Integrity Program, the Department of Children and Families, and the foster applicant(s) all work together to make an informed decision about whether foster care will be beneficial and successful for all parties involved. The licensing process will take months, and it proceeds at a pace reflective of each home’s readiness for such a commitment.
If the Licensing Process is successful, the prospective foster family will move on to pre-service training. The required pre-service training consists of ten, three-hour classes, homework, and field-based exercises. Classes are offered on a rotational basis every year and will cover multiple approaches to quality parenting and tips for the process so that all foster parents will be able to exit the training fully equipped to care for the children that will be under their care.
After the training is complete, the final step is to participate in a Foster Care Home Study. The study will include background checks on all household members and regular visitors, home inspections, financial statements, references, and family, personal, and medical histories.
For more information on how to become a foster parent, visit www.sjcfl.us/FIP/LicenseProcess.
The Department of Children and Family Services is the state agency charged with ensuring the well-being of children and helping families to be stable and self-sufficient. They have the primary responsibility to assist children who are victims of child abuse and neglect, in most cases by providing support services for children in foster care.
The department works with families to reunify them with their children when that can be accomplished safely. If it becomes clear that a child’s biological family cannot provide a safe, stable home, a judge may terminate the parent’s rights to the child. When parental rights are terminated, the department works to find a permanent, adoptive home for the child as quickly as possible.
Though the state does, of course, have restrictions most adults who can provide a stable, loving home to a child can adopt. Currently, there are 14,000 children in foster care in the state of Florida and 800 awaiting adoption. The process toward approval of adoption is much like the approval of foster parents. You will proceed first through a mutual approval process. Overall, the purpose of this process is twofold: to help prospective adoptive parents decide whether they truly want to adopt a foster child and for the department to evaluate prospective adoptive parents. Not everyone who completes the process will be approved to adopt.
Then a 10-week training course will be completed and finally, a caseworker will do a home study and interview. When your application has been approved, you will join a pool of waiting families as the adoption staff work to match you with a child whose needs you can best satisfy. When a “match” between your family and a child has been made, the staff will provide you with information and a picture of the child. When you decide you want to meet the child, the adoption counselor will arrange it for you. If you feel you and the child are right for each other, you will visit together several times until everyone is comfortable, and then the child will come to live with your family. To ensure everyone is happy with the adoption, there is a three-month “adjustment” period before the adoption is complete.
For more information on Florida’s adoption process, visit www.adoptflorida.com/information-guide.
OTHER WAYS TO HELP
Adoption is a big decision and is not a right fit for everyone. That doesn’t mean you can’t help out adoptive families, the department, and the children in government care. You can distribute Partners for Adoption recruitment materials; arrange for an adoption specialist from Children and Family Services to speak at your place of worship, civic group, or parent/teacher organization; donate your time, talents, or skills to spread the word about adoption; conduct fund-raising events to help with the extracurricular needs of children in foster homes and shelters – like special tutors, camps, sports, and music and art lessons.
If you’re interested in volunteering, call Florida’s Adoption Information Center at 1-800-96-ADOPT or email [email protected]
15TH ANNUAL ADOPTION DAY CELEBRATION
The St. Johns County Family Integrity Program is hosting its 15th Annual Adoption Day Celebration from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Friday, November 3 at the Solomon Calhoun Center at 1300 Duval Street. Held in conjunction with National Adoption Month in November, the celebration will honor the foster and adoptive parents and families who currently serve the children of St. Johns County. You can enjoy activities like free food, a bounce house, and games all while learning more information for those interested in becoming a foster or adoptive parent. For more information, please visit www.sjcfl.us/fip or www.adoptflorida.com, or call the St. Johns County Family Integrity Program at 904-209-6109.