No child comes with an instruction manual, and a child in foster care is no different.
Earlier this year a family, like so many others across Florida, welcomed a young child into their home as new foster parents. Frank, an elementary school-aged boy, was one of nearly 8,500 children removed from a home in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties in the past year because of abuse or neglect by a caregiver.
They did not know his favorite foods, if he preferred to sleep with a special blanket, or if he would be receptive to his new environment. But they knew for sure they were going to care for him as though he were their own child, even if only for a short time.
During the first week in their care, the boy opened up about the trauma he had been experiencing ó things no child should ever have to endure. He told them about his parentsí struggles and how investigators from the Department of Children and Families came into his home when things got really bad. Within days, Frank shared how he felt about his temporary home: "This is the first place I feel loved and cared for. I feel safe here."
When DCF intervenes in the life of a child, they are ensuring that he or she has a chance to reach their full potential, whether through reunification with family after appropriate services, adoption when biological parents are no longer able to care for the child, or through another permanent placement.
In the interim, it is foster parents who help these children by working alongside DCF, community-based care agencies and local organizations like One More Child to ensure a childís best interests are always considered.
The same family mentioned above later welcomed an infant into their home who had been exposed to drug use while in utero. Within a week, the precious child started to gain weight, was beginning to play with toys and was cooing, laughing and grinning. Once again, they provided love and safety, but gained so much more from the child than they ever thought possible.
Eventually, both children found permanent homes somewhere else, but they will forever be a part of their foster familiesí hearts. Many foster families build strong bonds with biological and adoptive parents and remain involved in the childís life after they leave their home. Their love will be passed down for generations through their foster childís own children, and their lives will forever be enriched because of their time with these children.
That is the difference that loving, committed, foster parents make in the life of a child. This is a difference that was made possible when this family made the decision to begin foster care training classes with One More Child. Itís not easy, just ask any foster parent, but it is worth it. This journey includes navigating an emotional rollercoaster with the help of caseworkers, friends from church, and your local community, who together continue to provide resources and support.
All foster parents make the choice to bring a child into their homes and their hearts, but few anticipate just how much the children they care for will give them. Ask just about anyone who has fostered and they will tell you it was worth it. Some of you may be waiting until the time is right to become foster parents, but for children throughout Florida the time is now.
Mike Carroll is secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families and a former foster parent. Dr. Jerry Haag is president of One More Child, which provides safe, stable, Christian homes and services to children and families in need.