For too many years, Florida’s child-welfare system has failed to protect the most vulnerable in our community — children.
Just a few days ago, CHARLEE, one of the oldest providers of foster-care services in Miami-Dade County, ceased to function as full case-management agency. As a result, hundreds of children probably will be in limbo in terms of their placements, case workers, adoptions and anything else that CHARLEE was doing for them.
Every child deserves to grow up in a loving and safe environment, although that it doesn’t happen. Many times it is not because parents don’t want to love their children, but because they cannot. It has been my experience that many of the children who end up in foster care today come from homes where the parents themselves were part of the foster-care system. They are naturally incapable of giving something they have never had.
I knew that we had failed our youth when Christopher looked me straight in the eye on the day he turned 18 and said, “I never thought I would make it to 18.”
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Or when we could not find a home for Jennifer, a young woman who has been through tremendous trauma.
Or when no one was notified two weeks ago when Jose was involuntarily committed under terms of the Baker Act.
We will continue to fail them until we start treating them as people instead of case numbers. The foster care system is filled with people who care but don’t have leaders who will take the time to listen. Too many executives just want to meet bottom lines and keep agencies in the black.
There is plenty of finger-pointing, and I admit that I am quick to point out other’s mistakes while turning a blind eye on my own. But I will continue to criticize the system until change occurs, the kind of change that brings a top-to-bottom reform.
The state of Florida must do its part and fully fund the Guardian ad Litem program as well as increase funding for Full Case Management Agencies and Community-Based Care Alliances in every judicial circuit, plus provide more support for foster parents and more funding for the Department of Children and Families.
By the time children end up in foster care, they are emotionally handicapped. They have vast educational, social, emotional and health needs that must be addressed. Though we know that education is the key for our children to succeed, we fail to see that until we heal their hearts we will not be able to access their minds
Our communities must have an abundance of amazing and loving foster homes where children who are removed from their biological parents receive “love therapy.” It is important that the state fund children’s needs adequately, but it also important that we substitute love for their pain.
This is a community-wide problem that we must address now, or it will take its toll in the future. It is not something that any one person or agency can solve. Just like most of us have a network of family and friends to go to in times of need, kids in foster care also need a network of people they can turn to.
Like George, who was kicked out of his adoptive home at 18 and was homeless a few years ago: Thanks to Educate Tomorrow, The Zyman Foundation, The Marlins Foundation and Voices For Children, he now lives on his own, has a job and is a full-time student at Miami Dade College.
Our community can come together on this and be the village that children in foster care need to be able to thrive and succeed.
Nelson F. Hincapie is president and CEO, Voices For Children Foundation.