BY JAMES HARPER
Showing support to foster parents is the main priority of the Florida State Foster/Adoptive Parent Annual Conference, which takes place in Daytona Beach this weekend.
John Harrell, spokesman for the Northeast Region of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) said this week that hundreds of foster parents would be attending this conference.
“They are our partners in raising children in foster care to be successful, contributing adults,” Harrell said.
Harrell said there are thousands of foster parents statewide, but there is always a need for more.
In Volusia County, as of May 31, there were 811 children in foster care. Of that number, 205 are Black, 624 White and 70 Hispanic.
In Flagler County there are 136 in foster care – 108 Whites, 33 Blacks and two Hispanics.
“We need foster parents as diverse as the children that we serve, of every ethnicity and many languages. It is so important to be able to offer a foster home with the same cultural and language background for our foster children to feel safe and be understood,” Harrell continued.
He said the greatest need is more foster homes interested in sibling groups and teens.
Race not tracked
Because of the federal Multiethnic Placement Act that was put in place in the late 1990s, DCF does not track the race of foster parents.
“Race is not supposed to be the deciding factor on placement. Instead we look for a match between foster children and foster parents based on . . . interests, beliefs, training and experience,” Harrell continued.
Harrell said a new foster care initiative will be announced at the conference, scheduled at the Daytona Beach Hilton Oceanfront June 22-24.
This initiative will be focused on five key points, including an awareness campaign that highlights how fostering changes lives and helps children become successful adults; recruitment and retention of foster parents; training and support for foster parents; extracurricular activities, social media, time with friends; and the importance of attending school, graduating and pursuing further education.
On Saturday, Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins is scheduled to speak.
Since taking the job last year, Wilkins has emphasized the necessity of community engagement in helping children, families and vulnerable adults across the state.
He launched a faith-based agenda for the department and created “Camps for Champions,” a statewide program that gives thousands of foster children the chance to go to a summer camp and connect with nationally recognized celebrities.
Other conference speakers will be Jack Levine, a communications and public policy consultant. Levine is the founder of 4Generations Institute and is partnership director for Grand Magazine, a national publication reaching out to approximately 77 million baby boomers in their active and energetic grand parenting years.
On Sunday, June 24, Juli Alvarado, an internationally recognized consultant, motivational speaker and expert in the area of relationship, attachment, trauma, and treatment of high risk, behaviorally disordered children and families is scheduled to be the keynote speaker.
She is president and owner of coaching for LIFE, a personal and professional development firm with an emphasis in maximizing human potential through relationship, at home and in the office. Alvarado provides expert consultation for state departments, judicial branches, agencies, corporations and families internationally.
Speaking during the NEX GEN Teen Conference on Saturday will be Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of the Youth Law Center.
Rodriguez grew up in the California foster care system and personally experienced the impact of institutionalization, inappropriate mental health services, and inadequate education support.
She also has personal experience with the juvenile justice system, and the issues faced by youth without family or support systems.
For more information about the conference, visit floridafapa.org.