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!


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.


Financial Gifts Mean Respite Support for Families

September 4, 2010
Respite program provides needed relief to local post-adoptive families

Financial gifts from the JMJ Life Center and Adopt Us Kids were recently given to Family Services of Metro Orlando in support of respite care practices for Orange and Osceola County adoptive families. Respite care is the temporary care of a child away from his or her current licensed caregiver for a limited period of time. Family Services provides respite care assistance to both foster and adoptive families.

Respite care is a best practice provided by Community-Based Care agencies because it helps stabilize families before tensions reach crisis levels. Parents can apply for respite care of their children during an emergency – such as an illness, death in the family or hospitalization, or in advance – to hire a babysitter for a parents evening out or find a safe place for the children to stay during an adults-only vacation.

Post-Adoptive Specialist Salena Norman, MSW, facilitates the Family Services Post-Adoptive Family and Youth Support Groups in each of Orange and Osceola counties.

“The fact is that raising any child can be difficult,” said Norman. “But when a child is adopted, a whole range of unexpected challenges can arise due to the child’s background. The process of creating a new family is beautiful, but these families often need special support.”

This funding is the first of its kind for direct respite support of the Family Services program. The JMJ Life Center funding came from the sale of Pro-Life license plates in Florida and will be used to provide adoptive parents who regularly attend the Osceola County Adoptive Family Support Group with respite options. The Adopt Us Kids grant – one of a limited number of grants awarded by the organization this year – will be used for respite for adoptive parents in both Orange and Osceola Counties. Along with the award, several Family Services staff will have the opportunity to attend a three-day respite training to ensure that the program grant is utilized with maximum efficiency.


One Family, One Community Celebrate 1,000 Adoptions

June 26, 2010

1,000th Adoption

Eight-year-old Melissa had been counting down the days until June 25. Little X’s marked her calendar, leading up to a big red circle drawn in excitement. She knew there would be a big party for her on that day, but it wouldn’t be for her birthday.

“After our two children went to college, we thought we were done raising children,” said Debbie Defour, Melissa’s new adoptive mother. “We never thought we would raise another family. But we’ve adopted four since then, and when we first took Melissa in, we just knew she was going to be part of our family.”

Debbie and her husband, Joseph, have made fostering-to-adopting a lifestyle and are active members of the Osceola County Foster Parent Association. On Melissa’s red-circle day, she became their fifth adopted child – and Family Services of Metro Orlando’s 1,000th adoption.

But they were not the only ones celebrated. As the Defour family waited in a packed courtroom, 17 other Osceola County families also finalized their own adoptions of 22 children.

Judge Margaret T. Waller presided over the ceremony that placed the children with their new families. “It’s always a joyous occasion when a new family is created through adoption,” said Judge Waller. “The 1,000th adoption is a joyous occasion the entire community can celebrate.”

Osceola County School Board Member Jay Wheeler opened the ceremony, followed by comments from Saint Cloud City Councilman and mayoral candidate Jay Polachek and Osceola County Chairman Fred Hawkins.

Afterward, many of the families gathered with their case managers to do just that. Family Services of Metro Orlando then decorated the Jury Room of the Osceola County Courthouse to honor and celebrate not only the milestone its 1,000th adoption, but the unforgettable milestone in each of these family’s lives.

Debbie and her husband, Joseph, had been excited for the day as well. “[Family Services of Metro Orlando] has provided all the support we need to go through with our adoptions,” said Debbie.

Family Services of Metro Orlando is the lead agency for community based care in Orange and Osceola counties. The non-profit organization coordinates services to families in need such as foster care, adoption and youth mentoring. This month’s adoptions in Osceola County were coordinated in partnership with Youth and Family Services, Children’s Home Society, Osceola County Guardians ad Litem, the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida, Children’s Legal Services, the Florida Department of Children and Families and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

During each of the past six years Family Services of Metro Orlando, together with its partners, has set new records for annual adoptions. There have been 219 adoptions during the 2009-2010 fiscal year, surpassing the 202 adoptions in the previous year.