Saving one child at a time

BY HOLLY KESTENIS Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – If you ever wondered what it takes to foster or adopt a child, a local organization wants to hear from you. One Church One Child of Florida held an educational forum Fri., March 20 to get the word out and Annie’s Beauty Supply, located at 2104 34th St. S., opened its doors to those looking to get more information.

LaKay Ferguson, Recruitment Coordinator

LaKay Ferguson, Recruitment Coordinator

“Our mission is to get at least one family at each church to adopt one child,” said LaKay Fayson Recruitment Coordinator for One Church One Child. “That would resolve the problem.”

But with 800 children in Florida’s foster care system on any given day, it seems that goal is a hefty one. Fayson feels positive there are many qualified families and individuals out there who could make a difference in a child’s life, but are perhaps a little wary of what it entails to foster a child.

“Once you become licensed, the care managers are going to try to put a child in your home as soon as possible because there’s a shortage of foster homes,” explained Fayson.

But it doesn’t take much more than a gentle heart and commitment to get the ball rolling. Persons looking to foster must be at least 21 years of age, financially stable and not currently receiving public assistance. No criminal history is a plus, but depending on the charge and how long ago the act was committed, even that can be overlooked.

Potential foster families must attend various classes, such as an initial orientation meeting and professional parenting training. They also must submit to a home study to make sure it meets the qualifications for child placement, but the agencies work with potential foster applicants to meet all the standards.

The downside, those agreeing to foster must be willing to cope with the uncertainty of how long they will have a child to care for.

“The child could end up staying there as short as three days and as long as three years or more,” said Fayson who informed that parents of children in foster care have up to one year to get their act together and abide by the court’s ruling. After they meet the requirements, they can regain custody even if a bond has already been established with their foster family. “It just depends on the child’s situation.”

If a long-term commitment is more of what you’re looking for, adoption is the way to go. Adopting a child in the foster care system has many incentives to entice potential applicants into making a more permanent commitment. Besides the reward of knowing you’re helping out a child, there are financial perks to consider.

For starters, adopting a child from foster care costs little or nothing. The required training class and the home study are provided at no cost to the applicant and even court costs and fees can be paid by the agency responsible for the child if the adopting family can’t afford them.

The adoption is secure. In Florida, children from foster care are not deemed available for adoption until parental rights are terminated, so there is no chance that a parent can change their minds and terminate the adoption.

Another perk to adopting a child permanently is the financial assistance given to adopting families. Most will likely qualify for financial assistance through a monthly subsidy to help offset the ongoing costs of caring for a child. Healthcare, which can get quite expensive when it comes to children, is also eligible to be covered through Medicaid until the child turns 18 and in some cases 21.

Yet another incentive to adopting is the free college tuition. In welcoming a child into your home through adoption, college is covered to any state university, community college or vocational school in Florida, which makes adopting a teen in need of a home seem more doable.

Matching a child with a potential family has even become easier. Those looking to adopt can pick a child via website viewings to see if there’s a child they may be interested in. Matching events are even held where prospective families play games with children in need of a home.

“You check out the kids,” said Fayson, “and in the meantime the children are checking you out,” which is a situation that she views as a positive, but also a sad representation of the foster care system. “Imagine going to one of these events, whether it’s fun or not, you’re there to find a family.”

A scary process, but unfortunately the circumstances exist, so Fayson and the other members of One Church One Child of Florida work hard to match families with a child as best they can.

“The children we are talking about have been taken out of their home due to abuse, abandonment or neglect,” Fayson said. “Whether you foster or adopt, it is a big commitment.”

Over 50 percent of children waiting to be adopted are minorities and most are over eight years old and many are members of sibling groups, which makes it difficult to find homes both permanent and temporary. Older children are harder to place and multimember family dynamics makes it difficult for siblings to stay together.

But Fayson argues that by finding just one family per church to adopt or enter the foster care system, the crisis of homeless children could greatly be reduced.

Some churches are asked to be prayer partners, others can become Watch Care participants giving birthday or Christmas gifts, inviting children in foster care to attend their church or participate in a child’s activities, such as providing a support system for older teens.

Fayson’s goals, however, is to get churches to make a deeper commitment and agree to have a tool kit display in their church with brochures or professional photos complete with bios of children to spark interest their congregants.

“You think it would be easy for a pastor to say, ‘Yeah I’ll sign up,’ but it has been a challenge over the years,” said Fayson.

For more information on One Church One Child of Florida call 1-888-283-0886, visit them online at www.ococfl.org, or speak to a recruitment coordinator locally by calling (813) 985-7831.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

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