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WANTED: Foster & Adoptive Parents In NWFL

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Saturday is National Adoption Day and on Friday, a “Forever Starts Today” event is on tap in Pensacola. About 800 kids in foster care across Florida await the call.

In the past year, there were 251 adoptions in the western Panhandle:  Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton Counties. Over the past 16 years, the Families First Network has created roughly 3,000 forever families in the region, according to its figures.

“When a child comes into foster care, we work to get them reunified with their parents if at all possible,” says Shawn Salamida, President of FamiliesFirst Network and VP of Child Protective Services at the Lakeview Center in Pensacola.

“But in many cases, it’s not possible. So then our next charge is to get the child adopted into a forever family.”

November is Child Adoption Month, and the local theme for this month’s events is “Forever Starts Today.” Salamida says there’s nothing like “Finalization Day” in the adoption process.

“That’s when an adoptive family and child go to court, and the judge makes it official,” said Salamida. “And orders that the child is permanently part of this family. We say ‘Forever Starts Today’ because it’s such a special day.”

“Finalization Day” in Pensacola is this Friday, when Circuit Judges Michael Allen and Coleman Robinson will preside after a reception for the kids and their new families.

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Shawn Salamida, President of the FamiliesFirst Network.

If someone decides to adopt a child, they don’t need parenting experience, nor do they have to be married. Same-sex couples are also eligible. Salamida says they have a lot of adoptive parents that fit those criteria. All you need, he says, is to be ready to become a parent.

“You have to be an adult; you have to be able to provide for the child,” says Salamida. “There’s a review process called the ‘Home Study.’ Our adoption case workers would need to come out and evaluate, to make sure that the home is going to be safe and stable for the child. Not just today but for the rest of their life.”

That process varies, depending on family makeup and living situation, among other factors. One major challenge for any adoption agency is how to get older kids, ages 12 and up, into forever families.

“We’re talking to a lot of people who have adopted kids at that age,” said Salamida. “They kind of like the fact that the kids are already grown and are through potty training and through learning how to ride a bike, and they’re pretty well self-sufficient. You kind of skip a step with the parenting challenges.”

FamiliesFirst Network has a goal of 300 finalized adoptions during the current fiscal year. President Shawn Salamida says that would be roughly ten percent of the total adoptions across Florida.

Information on becoming a foster parent, or bringing a child into a forever home, is available at www.familiesfirstnetwork.org.