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Foster Parents Needed In Northwest Florida


A growing number of children in Escambia County are in foster care, and the agency which provides local child protective services says that number is rising.

Families First Network of Lakeview, which handles local child protective services for the Florida Department of Children and Families,  had 1,270 children in foster care as of May 1. That’s a 31% increase since January of last year, according to President Shawn Salamida.

“A lot of the findings that DCF is coming across have to do with drug abuse, domestic violence,” said Salamida. “Last year in Escambia County, more children came into foster care, than in some major metropolitan cities in Florida such as Orlando and Jacksonville.”

Statewide, there’s been a 15% increase in the number of kids needing foster care over the past two years. Salamida says they’re working with the state in trying to keep children at home safely.

Meanwhile, things are tight at Families First. Currently. There’s a shortage of beds in its service area, Escambia to Okaloosa Counties, to meet the increasing numbers. That means kids can end up being moved elsewhere, as far away at Tallahassee.

“We’ve been foster-adoptive parents for about 13 years,” said Sarah Ellis, the founder of “My Father’s Arrows,” a faith-based non-profit in Milton that seeks to help foster children and educate the public about their needs.

“We help Families First and other child welfare entities in the area with their recruitment activities, and then really developing common, permanency for the older kids,” said Ellis.

Families First began a new campaign in February on Pandora, Facebook, and other digital media, targeting women age 24 to 54, considered to be the most likely candidates for foster parenting. But Shawn Salamida says that’s not written in stone.

“That’s the target that when we do analysis of who have been our longstanding, most effective foster parents over time,” Salamida said. “It’s usually within that demographic that we find individuals. Now, you don’t have to be within that demographic to be a foster parent. You just have to be 21 or older.”

Response to the ads has been good. Salamida says they’ve added about 30 beds, and have gone from 24 inquiries per month to about 35, many of them potential foster parents, who would go through a 40-hour training program.

More information on becoming a foster parent can be found at familiesfirstnetwork.org, and at myfathersarrows.org.