New initiative will build stronger foster families and ensure that our children have the opportunity for success

New initiative will build stronger foster families and ensure that our children have the opportunity for success
~ Editorial Submission by Secretary David Wilkins, Florida Department of Children and Families ~

Our society believes deeply in the value of family. Unfortunately, some children are unable to live with their birth families because of abuse, neglect, substance abuse and other situations.

At the Department of Children and Families, we are committed to helping all of Florida's children in foster care grow up healthy, happy and safe. Our foster parents are highly committed, well-trained, patient and persistent. They are working miracles in the lives of our children and are respected partners in raising these children to be successful. Foster parents have the ability to change a child's life in a positive and lasting way. The love and respect they give to the children in their homes are critical to each child's healthy growth and well-being.

Recently, DCF and our partners launched a new initiative aimed at better retaining, recruiting and supporting foster parents and also providing more social and educational activities for our children in foster care. We unveiled a new website at that gives information for potential foster parents and highlights successful stories of foster families and children in foster care across Florida.

While we have done some things well, we certainly have room to improve. This Fostering Florida's Future initiative is a partnership with our 18 community-based care agencies around the state, the Guardian ad Litem program, and foster parent associations, among others. Our goal is to recruit at least 1,200 new foster families in the coming year. This collaboration will help increase the number and quality of foster homes in Florida, build stronger foster families for our children and ensure that our children have every chance at becoming successful adults.

The goal is simple: supportive, loving foster parents will raise these children to become independent, successful, contributing adults.

I announced this initiative recently at the Florida State Foster/Adoptive Parent Association's annual conference in Daytona Beach. The room was filled with hundreds of foster parents and children currently in foster care, along with some who have already aged out of foster care. They were so excited to hear about the changes we are making.

When foster parents know they have support and clear guidelines, and when children in foster care realize they are not alone and that so many people are working to help them succeed, the future is brighter for every child and for our entire state. These changes include working more closely with foster parents through the investigative process, streamlining paperwork during licensing and allowing them to reasonably parent the children we have placed in their care.

In addition, our children should be able to safely experience what every other child experiences-- school proms, date nights, slumber parties with friends, learning how to drive a car. We are doing a disservice to them if we don't find a way for them to live like our own children live.

All children in foster care should have the same expectations at educational success as other children. As part of this effort, DCF began tracking the school attendance and graduation rates of these children on a monthly basis to identify ways to increase school participation and ensure that children in foster care have the opportunity to graduate high school and move on to future studies.

A new report card will begin looking at an array of measures for each child so that our community-based care partners can work with them on an individual basis and provide the tools that are needed to help them succeed.

These children are the next generation of Florida's parents, workers and leaders. In small and big ways, you can help give them the opportunities they deserve. Please help us Foster Florida's Future.