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More Foster Homes Needed In Northwest Florida

Photo via Flickr// hasensaft

More foster care providers are signing up in Florida, according to the Department of Children and Families. The need is great in the western Panhandle, where a growing number of children are needing such care.

According to DCF’s Community-Based Care offices around the state, nearly 1,400 homes were licensed for foster care in the fiscal year that ended on June 30. The total number year is 4,845, up 211 from last year.

FamiliesFirst 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. But, FamiliesFirst is having to handle the extra cases while dealing with a shortage of beds in its Escambia to Okaloosa service area. That means kids can end up being moved as far away as 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 FamiliesFirst and other child welfare entities in the area with their recruitment activities, and then really developing common, permanency for the older kids,” said Ellis.

To that end, FamiliesFirst is conducting a campaign on Pandora, Facebook, and other social and digital media. It targets women age 24 to 54 who are considered to be the most likely candidates for foster parenting. But Shawn Salamida says that’s not the end-all be-all.

“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 said last month they’ve added about 30 beds, and have gone from two dozen inquiries per month to about 35, many of them potential foster parents, who would go through a 40-hour training program spanning about nine weeks.

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