Foster care to adoption: Jacksonville-based agency leads state in placement

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Family Support Services of North Florida is ranked first in the state — for the second consecutive year — in the number of children adopted from foster care.

The lead agency for foster care, adoption and family preservation in Duval and Nassau counties is one of 17 community-based care agencies contracted by the Florida Department of Children and Families to provide child welfare services, including the adoption of foster children, according to a news release.

The agency placed 307 local foster children in permanent homes through adoption in fiscal year July 2012 to June 2013. Statewide, 3,356 foster children were adopted last fiscal year.

Family Support Services “continues to aggressively recruit adoptive parents for foster children who are available for adoption, the majority of whom are teenagers or are in a sibling group of two or more brothers and sisters,” said Lee Kaywork, chief executive director, in the release.

He credited the success to other partner organizations, the agency’s adoption team and the leadership of Circuit Court Judge David Gooding, who has presided over about 1,500 adoptions. More than 80 percent of the local adoptions last year were finalized within 24 months of when the children came into foster care, according to Kaywork.

Since 2006, the agency has found loving adoptive families for more than 2,300 local foster children.

“I am always amazed at the willingness of so many caring people to bring these children into their families. The love and devotion they demonstrate is a credit to this community that should make all of us proud,” Kaywork said.

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Foster care contractor TFI Family Services is seeking foster parents

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Foster care contractor TFI Family Services is seeking foster parents for the Miami area.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) settled a class-action civil-rights lawsuit in 2011 against its foster-care system by agreeing to make improvements in targeted areas of the state’s child welfare system. As part of this settlement agreement, OKDHS is developing an improvement plan, called the Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan, which will guide the agency in the years ahead as it works to make improvements in the way it cares for children in foster care.

OKDHS awarded contracts on Aug. 6 through June 30, 2014. with renewal options to private partnerships for the recruitment, support and retention of foster families as part of the plan.

Foster-care contracts were awarded to Angels Foster Family Network, Inc., of Oklahoma City, DCCA/Tall Grass Family Services of Lawrence, Kan., St. Francis Community Services of Tulsa, and TFI Family Connections, LLC of Emporia, Kan. The contract awards came after a second round of bids, the first in April canceled by DHS Director Ed Lake because of concerns over the prescriptive nature of the contracts, how service areas were defined, and the process not allowing provider input.

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In Ottawa County the number of available foster homes is limited. There are currently 44 children in foster care in the county and just 12 approved licensed foster homes. TIF will be serving the northeast area of Oklahoma, and is searching for anyone interested in fostering children.

TFI Family Connections representative Jason Cecil has been in the Miami area to begin recruiting efforts.

“There’s a pretty big discrepancy in the number of kids coming into the system compared to the number of foster homes,” Cecil said. “Some of those kids are placed with relatives, aunts , uncles, grandparents, or foster parents. If there isn’t an available foster home in Miami they will send them outside of Ottawa County. That’s our task to get more foster homes here. Our goal is to get enough homes in the area so that kid can stay in Miami.”

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The overwhelming lack of available foster homes in the area takes the community’s children in need out of their familiar surroundings, schools and churches, making an already difficult situation even more traumatic for the child.

The privatization of foster care in Oklahoma was also approved to help free case workers for more hours to work with the biological families toward the goal of reunification.

TFI Connections is a division of TFI Services in Kansas, which has a long history of providing foster homes there. With an office in Bartlesville, Cecil said TFI is now ready to provide the same service in Oklahoma.

“Our goal is to get enough families here to where we can hire a worker for here in Miami,” he said.

TFI foster families receive the services of dedicated, professional personal social worker/case workers, 24-hour on-call support, reimbursement payments, local monthly support meetings, free ongoing comprehensive training, multi-media resource library, respite services, liability insurance, and independent advocacy to support the home.

“With us they’ll have a worker assigned directly to their home to establish a rapport with that worker. Then you have somebody to contact when things aren’t going as they should,” Cecil said.

To qualifiy as a foster-parenting homes for TFI, you must:

  • 21 years of age with no maximum age
  • have a permanent residence
  • have an outside income source
  • complete training
  • pass OSBI background checks
  • pass a home study and inspection

“The first thing we do after they contact us is have them fill out a packet of information. Then we will put them in a class,” Cecil said. “It’s a 10-week class, one night a week, for three hours.”

Certified TFI foster parents fill out a profile, specifying preferences for fostering such as age, gender, sibling groups or children with disabilities.

“They have all the control,” he said.

There are no medical expenses. and clothing vouchers are given to assist TFI foster homes as well as reimbursements of $450 to $500 per month. There are no contractual obligations.

“We would encourage any family that has thought of fostering to go ahead and call,” Cecil said.

TIF is starting free classes on Aug. 29 at the First Christian Church 2424 N. Main St., Miami. Those interested can attend the classes or contact TIF at 800-279-9914 or www.tfifamilyconnections.org to learn more.