Poverty Rates Hit a 51-Year High

October 20, 2010

The number of Americans in poverty reached a 51-year high according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In Florida, more than 15% of children are now living in poverty, and Orange County poverty rates are among the highest in the state. This infographic from Mint.com tells the story.

Mint Poverty Maphttp://www.mint.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Mint_Poverty.swf

Child abuse is directly correlated with poverty rates, and we have seen an increase in the number of children entering the child protection system in Orange and Osceola Counties due to abuse and neglect over the past year. Unfortunately, rates of child abuse tend to increase as government funding for child protection decreases. Private sector funding is critical now more than ever to keep our children safe. Support our children today for a better, safer tomorrow.


Upcoming Events – October 2010

October 14, 2010

Please click here to view the October 2010 events calendar.


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.


Staff Spotlight: Burney Vaughn

October 13, 2010

Burney Vaughn, DJJ Liaison

Family Services staff member Burney did not always aspire to help youth with DJJ issues. Why does he do it?

At Family Services of Metro Orlando, Burney Vaughn brings a smile to everyone’s face.

“I like to make people laugh,” he said. “We are usually dealing with unfortunate circumstances, so I think it’s important to connect with people and help them through it. It makes it all a little easier that way.”

As Family Services’ DJJ Support Liaison, Burney serves largely as a bridge between the Florida Department of Children and Families and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice in Orange and Osceola counties. When a minor is arrested and processed through the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice system, his or her family must be notified of the situation. When the youth becomes eligible for release back into his parents’ custody, the parents may refuse to accept him due to anger, denial or fear. Without a parent to come pick him up from the detention facility, youth in this position may end up in the state-run foster care system because they have no place else to go.

“I believe that parents are usually able to do a better job in raising a child than the system can,” he said. “So if I can talk to the parents and provide the family with some wraparound support services – like family counseling or a mentor to come meet with the youth – that will make the parents comfortable with keeping the child in their home, I can give him a better future.”

At the start of his career, Burney served in the United States Air Force for two years. At that time, he did not know that his path would lead to a career in social services, but has always believed that life has a way of working itself out. While working as Deputy Sheriff in Lake Country, Burney began to notice that he connected most with teenagers who were struggling to find their way in the world.

“As a Senior Advisor for the Lake County Sheriff’s office, I worked with both the Explore Program and the D.A.R.E. Program and I started to notice that I was passionate about helping the kids,” he said. “After that, I worked a in number of positions including as an Intervention Assessment Coordinator for the Lake County Boy’s Ranch; a Placement Coordinator in Sumter County with the Florida Department of Children and Families; and a Family Support Supervisor and Facility Coordinator for Florida Operations and Fleet Management for Central Baptist Family Services. When Family Services was created, I was hired as a Case Assignment Unit Counselor… I’ve seen many different sides of the child welfare system.”

Because children thrive best when they are supported within their families and communities, Burney’s goal as Family Services DJJ Support Liaison is to keep families together. In the last five years, Burney has saved the state of Florida over six million dollars – money that has been reinvested into Family Preservation programs rather than foster care placements. But to Burney, his job is much more important than numbers.

“I grew up in a house with loving parents and siblings. We went to church every Sunday, we played sports – I never grew up wanting anything,” Burney explained. “So I see this job as my opportunity to give these kids the kind of love and support I had growing up… I can’t relate to everything they go through, but what I can do is give them some sort of positive outlook for their future with their families.”


DCF Community Meeting

October 11, 2010
Community Meeting gives public a chance to voice opinions about the state of the child welfare system.

On September 13, DCF hosted a community meeting to gather the public opinion concerning child welfare in Central Florida. The meeting brought more than 150 community members including clients, care providers and stakeholders.

The concept of community based care is to engage and encourage local community be a part of the solution. This meeting gave community members an opportunity to share their thoughts about the strengths and weaknesses of care in the area.

Members of the DCF panel listened to each comment for consideration during the contract negotiation process.

“The support of the public has been an invaluable asset and a constant reminder of our mission,” said Greg Kurth, Family Services CEO. “However, we also encourage people to critique our services so that we can continue to improve our system of care.”

Negotiations for the District 9 contract have closed and a public hearing is scheduled for October 22.


National Award Presented to Local Foster-to-Adoptive Family

October 11, 2010

1,000th Adoption

When asked to recommend a pair of local foster-to-adoptive parents for the prestigious national Angels In Adoption award, Family Services recommended Deborah and Joseph Defour.

Every year, Members of Congress recognize adoption heroes for the Angels in Adoption award to honor individuals, couples or organizations across America for their extraordinary contribution on behalf of children in need of homes.

Family Services of Metro Orlando would like to congratulate Debbie and Joseph Defour of St. Cloud, Florida, who were selected by Congressman Bill Posey as recipients of this national honor. They have shown extraordinary compassion for Osceola County’s foster children and have provided five children with a permanent place to call home – forever.

The Defours have made fostering-to-adopting a lifestyle and are active members of the Osceola County Foster Parent Association. On June 25th of this year, they adopted their daughter Melissa as Family Services of Metro Orlando’s 1,000th adoption.

“After our two children went to college, we thought we were done raising children,” said Debbie Defour. “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.”

Joseph and Debbie Defour were one of 139 honorees this week at the National Angels in Adoption conference in Washington DC.


Twenty-Six Public Allies Begin Work in Central Florida

October 11, 2010

Public Allies Class of 2011

The inaugural class of Central Florida Public Allies officially launched on October 8, 2010

Family Services’ commitment to capacity building and creating possibilities for the Central Florida community was made even stronger this month with the official launch of the Public Allies program in Central Florida.

The national Public Allies program was founded in Chicago in 1992 by a diverse group of non-profit leaders. They believed that there were many talented young people in the up-and-coming generations who could tackle community and national issues, but first needed support and training. Public Allies works with local non-profits to place these paid volunteers in positions that benefit both the organization and the individual through training for real-world positions in the non-profit sector as well as leadership classes.

Over the past 13 years, the program has expanded into major cities across the nation including Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Miami, Las Angeles and Milwaukee. This year, Orlando, Washington D.C. and Minneapolis-St. Paul were the three newest cities to join the Public Allies’ network. For Family Services Chief Executive Officer Gregory Kurth, Family Services’ successful campaign to bring Public Allies to Central Florida has great personal significance.

“Almost 18 years ago, I was introduced to the vision of Public Allies when I was included in a national planning conference that created its name. Through the planning process, I was introduced to some of our nation’s strongest community leaders dedicated to community service,” said Kurth. “Their commitment to serve inspired me to help plan Chicago’s Public Ally program and continue on a career path that focused on serving my community… This is the next step in the evolution of Central Florida’s nonprofit sector.”

After a week of training, the 26 Central Florida Public Allies began their work following a launch event on Friday, October 8, 2010 at the Broadway United Methodist Church in downtown Orlando. These individuals – selected from over 150 applicants to the program – will serve for 10 months in eighteen local non-profits, many of whom work largely on behalf of children and families.

After being warmly welcomed to the program by Pastor Clare Chance of Broadway United Methodist Church, Sharbrika Jackson – a member of the inaugural class of Public Allies – stood at the podium to deliver a powerful message about where she has been and where she wants to go.

“Hello. I am Sharbrika Jackson,” she began. “And I am a statistic. I am a single, black mother of two, both from two different fathers. I am homeless. I grew up in a household where domestic violence was prevalent… but now I am a Public Ally.”

Macarthur Antigua, himself alumni of the program and now the Director of National Recruitment and Expansion for Public Allies, also spoke about the importance of the Allies to our community. He shared that of the national AmeriCorps family which consists of over 2,500 people, only 656 of them are a part of Public Allies. Keynote speaker Pastor Joel Hunter, locally and nationally known as the Pastor of Northland Church and a 2009-2010 member of President Obama’s President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, spoke to the allies about what it means to be a leader in modern times.

“Leadership is the combined action of the many – not the position of a few,” said Hunter. “Remember that you’re in this program because people have seen strength in you… You have been chosen, but you were chosen not only for your ability, but because people have seen in you the ability to love and to serve and to hold other people up… We are a strong nation, but we will not be saved by consumerism – we will not be saved until our lives are about picking up the weak. ”

Family and friends of the new Allies had the opportunity to meet the representatives of many of the non-profits hosting them, including Children’s Home Society, Quest, Federation of Congregations United to Serve, Florida United Methodist Children’s Home, Harbor House of Central Florida and Legal Aid Society of the OCBA, Heart of Florida United Way and Professional Opportunities Program for Students, Inc.
Family Services’ team leaders Karla Radka, Site Director for Public Allies, as well as Jessica Brown and Diana Delgado, Program Managers for Public Allies, were also on hand to welcome guests and answer questions.