Family Services Staff: Making the Season Brighter for Families

December 23, 2010

With the upcoming transition of oversight of Orange and Osceola counties’ child welfare services to a new lead agency in April, this holiday season has been filled with uncertainty for the staff of Family Services of Metro Orlando. Yet our commitment to empowering our community to create possibilities remains unchanged, even in the midst of personal crisis. In the past month, many of our staff members have gone above and beyond to share some much-needed cheer with the children and families we serve.

At our staff holiday lunch in mid-December, each person received a Target giftcard from our Board of Directors. At the same time, our Prevention and Diversion Specialists were collecting donations of warm winter clothing for 75 homeless families living in the Margaret Square community of Winter Park. When our staff members learned that many of the families had children and could not afford coats to protect them from this year’s near-record low winter temperatures, many of them chose to immediately donate their giftcards as well as cash and new coats to help. Together with other donations from our community, we were able to directly help keep these children safe this winter.

Shortly afterwards, another urgent need came to the attention of our Prevention and Diversion Team. A hardworking local family was going through a difficult financial situation and needed a crib for their infant. Through an all-staff e-mail chain, our team was able to generate and assemble a new crib for the family. Monetary donations directly from staff members were used to purchase a much-needed crib mattress as well. 

To further help families struggling financially this time of year, Family Services Resource Specialists decided to use funds earned in a 2009 fundraiser to create gift baskets for families who were unable to afford a Christmas dinner this year. Through each of our Case Management Organizations, they were able to make the season a little brighter for 20 families with both dry and perishable food items as well as giftcards.

But the most valuable aspect of the work that we do is knowing that we are not alone in our desire to give every child a healthy, happy childhood during this holiday season. Our community cares about children in need, too.

While standing in line at a crowded store to purchase a specific coat requested by a youth, Prevention and Diversion Specialist Diana Curry discovered that she did not have enough money for the item.  

“We thought we would have to leave without it, but a lady standing behind us us donated $20 to help us complete the money for the coat,” said Diana. “Many thanks goes out to her…Our families were just ecstatic to receive the coats we bought!”

 And several days later, when we were contacted by a future foster family asking how they could help children this Christmas, Family Development Specialist Trinity Kimble directed them to our involvement with the Kissimmee Parks and Recreation Christmas Drive. The couple responded by donating $500 worth of toys and coats for children in need.

“I am ever grateful that I have had the opportunity to give back and pay it forward through my job,” said Trinity. “[Our entire staff] deserves kudos for our relentless sacrifices and dedicated commitments to all those we serve.”

Family Services Staff is proud to serve Orange and Osceola counties. We wish you a joyous season!

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Child Welfare Agencies Unite to Advocate for Renewal of the Title IV-E Waiver

October 14, 2010

What is the Title IV-E Waiver and why is it important to Florida’s children?

Under the Social Security Act, Title IV-E provides grants to states for aid and services to needy families and families with children and child welfare services. It allows funding to be distributed to states to be used to fund out-of-home care activities. On March 31, 2006, Florida was granted a Title IV-E Waiver, which allowed for a more flexible spending of these federal dollars at a local level. In its four year existence, the state has used the waiver to create and expand upon innovative practices within its 20 Community-Based Care agencies statewide, including Family Services of Metro Orlando. The Title IV-E Waiver allowed Federal funding to be used in support of Family Team Conferencing and Family Finders programs, domestic violence prevention measures, mental health and substance abuse treatment for children, prevention and diversion services, parenting-skills classes and foster parent recruitment and retention efforts.

If not renewed, the Title IV-E waiver will sunset in 2011 and end the flexibility of this funding. In the absence of the waiver, the federal money that was once used to help prevent the necessary removal of children from their homes will only be able to help them after they have entered the state foster care system.

“The Title IV-E Waiver enables us to use money that has already been allocated to our local system in ways that are more innovative than in the past – ways that are proven to help us keep children safe in their own homes,” said Gregory Kurth, CEO for Family Services of Metro Orlando. “If we lose the waiver option, we will be loosing the ability to use money we had in the past in ways that were proven to safely lower the number of children in foster care… We view the potential loss of the waiver as a huge step backward in the care of children nationwide.”

The waiver will remain available to Florida’s child welfare system until next year, but it must be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate in order to remain in effect. On July 29, 2010 the House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means’ Subcommittee meet to discuss income security and family support. Child welfare organizations from across the nation gathered to present their thoughts on the Title IV-E Waiver. William Bell, President and CEO of Casey Family Programs – the nation’s largest operating foundation committed to the needs of children in foster care – spoke on the importance of the flexibility the waiver provides.

“The fact that Title IV-E funding cannot be used for prevention or post-reunification services [without the waiver] has created a significant challenge to achieving better safety outcomes and finding permanent homes for children,” said Bell. “Federal funding should be available for a broader array of services that address not only out-of-home care, but services that also address the root causes of child abuse and neglect, services that strengthen families, and services that expedite the process of finding a safe permanent home for children who are in foster care.”

Because prevention services can be administered at such a dramatic reduction of cost to the state than foster care services, many agencies who have taken advantage of the Title IV-E Waiver funding have managed to keep children safer, for less cost. Through the waiver, money saved through the process of stabilizing a child in his home without removal, has been returned to Florida’s lead agencies in order to expand such programs to continue keeping children safe. Agencies and organizations in Florida, Ohio, Oregon, Indiana and California are among the strongest proponents of the waiver.

At the same hearing before the House of Representatives’ committee, George Sheldon, Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, stated:

“When I came to the Department in January 2007 as Assistant Secretary, implementation of the waiver was in its very early stages. Under Governor Charlie Crist, Secretary Bob Butterworth, and with the strong support of our community-based partners, we made successful implementation of the waiver one of our highest priorities… Before the IV-E waiver, we spent $7.96 on out-of-home care for every dollar we spent on in-home services, family preservation, prevention and diversion. By 2009, this ratio had dropped from $7.96 to $3.60, signaling a significant shift in focus… The IV-E waiver has allowed us to align our program goals with program funding.”

Following the July committee hearing, the House of Representatives passed the Title IV-E Waiver continuation; however, it must also be passed in the Senate in order to be continued.

In August 2011, David Bundy, Chief Executive Officer of Children’s Home Society’s Central Florida division – a case management organization and partner of Family Services – testified before the Senate Foster Care Caucus on the importance of the waiver. Bundy has taken an especially vested interest in this issue because he himself was a victim of abuse as a child. He is an invaluable advocate on behalf of children and families and has committed his life to improving social services.

The bill was received in the Senate and referred to its Committee on Finance on September 24, 2010.

For more information on the Title IV-E waiver and its importance to Florida’s children, read an earlier blog post by our partner Children’s Home Society here.


Child and Family Practice Initiative

February 27, 2010

Family Services announces success of new initiative for permanent placement of foster children.

The Child and Family Practice Initiative (CFPI) is an intense, assertive and coordinated approach by Family Services to combat foster care drift and find permanent homes for children lingering in foster care in Orange and Osceola counties. The basis for the CFPI model comes from the successful Georgia Permanency Roundtable Project, which is supported by Casey Family Services, of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Since the creation of the CFPI in October 2009, we have helped our partners safely move more than 80 children toward permanent homes with strong families. As we continue to reduce the number of children in foster care, more funding will become available for use by our innovative family strengthening and child abuse prevention programs.

The CFPI incorporates the activities of several pre-existing programs including Family Finders, which locates fit and willing relatives to care for family members in foster care, Family Team Conferencing, which strengthens support networks for families who have been reunited with their children, Resource Specialists, who locate and mobilize community supports for families and Child Welfare Specialists, who ensure timely provision of services toward each child’s permanency goal. Through the efforts of the CFPI team, families can be reunited, children’s lives can be rebuilt and the cycle of abuse can finally be broken.

For more information, contact Beth Lewis at blewis@fsmetroorlando.org or (407) 398-7975.