At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, as everyone was just beginning to grasp the impacts both locally and globally, an old Fred Rogers quote came to mind: “We live in a world where we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community not my world. Not my responsibility.’ Then there are people who see the need and respond. Those people are my heroes."
Nothing has reinforced this concept more than seeing firsthand the impact the coronavirus is having on the more than 50,000 Florida children, youth and families receiving services from Florida’s child welfare system. This includes more than 24,000 youth residing outside of their home in foster care placements because they cannot safely remain with their parents or caregivers.
Throughout our state, there is a vast community of care, made up of thousands of heroes -- individuals, agencies, foster families and residential care providers -- all sharing the responsibility and supporting and caring for children and youth in every community.
These are children and youth who have experienced an unimaginable amount of trauma in their young lives. Foster care provides them with a safe, stable environment for the first time.
May is National Foster Care Month, and while daily life looks a bit different with the pandemic, this is still an important time for our communities to come together to celebrate foster families and foster care providers.
Over the last few months, our community of care has been presented with new and unpredictable challenges. The result has been a collective community response to finding innovative ways to ensure children remain safe and don’t experience further trauma as a result of the new disruptions in everyone’s daily lives.
Hundreds of licensed residential foster care providers in our state have not missed a moment, continuing to provide around the clock support for youth in family-style therapeutic group homes. They have also stepped up to serve the larger community by offering virtual support programs and other vital community services.
The Florida Coalition for Children (FCC) and the over 80-plus community-based non-profit agencies that provide child welfare services throughout Florida, recruit, train, license and support the 7,000-plus foster caregivers throughout our state.
Our community’s collective commitment to caring for these children and families is making a difference as we continue to face the additional challenges COVID-19 has introduced into an already vulnerable population.
These providers have had to come together and find new, unique ways to support children in care during these unprecedented times.
While there are thousands of foster caregivers providing placements for children, National Foster Care Month is also a time we are reminded of the critical need for more foster parents in our communities.
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Floridians have seen the need in our communities, responded and stepped up to help care for youth in foster care by opening their hearts and homes. They are heroes and our communities and state are better because of their selfless service, especially during these times.
Kurt Kelly is CEO and president of the Florida Coalition for Children and Families and a former legislator in the Florida House of Representatives. For more information on becoming a foster parent, please visit www.flchildren.org to find your local community foster care agency and resources.