May is National Foster Care Month, and United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH) took an afternoon Saturday to thank foster parents in a picnic in Navarre Park.
Foster parents in the UMCH West Florida Foster Parent program provide care for children that have been separated from their families due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. Some of these children will be reunified with their biological families after working through challenges. Others may be adopted into new homes.
Until that happens, foster parents fill the gap, supporting children through this difficult period of their lives said program manager Charlotte Thomas.
“Not everybody in the community understands the need for children to have a safe and loving place to be when there is a lot of change going on with their biological family or when their biological family might not be able to have a safe place for the children to be,” she said. “Those children may look like other children in the community and you may be totally unaware of what they are experiencing.”
West Florida Foster Care has 29 licensed foster families providing beds for children in care throughout Circuit 1 including Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties.
There are 1,442 children in care in Circuit 1 according to the latest data from FamiliesFirst Network of Lakeview. Of those, 270 children are in Santa Rosa County. The program is a partner for FamiliesFirst.
“We get multiple calls each day looking for placements of children, and it is very heart wrenching when we don’t have available placements because a lot of the children in our placements wind up staying for months at a time,” Thomas said.
Brittany Waldhour is a foster parent through the program. She and her husband got licensed after discovering they could not have children by traditional means.
Waldhour said the need is crucial. She has four children ages 0-5 in her home. She and her husband have adopted three of them and plan to adopt the fourth if reunification with her birth family becomes untenable.
“These kids are basically like our own, like our bio children. You treat them just like you would your bio children,” she said. “You do have some guidelines, but honestly, we do everything a normal family would do. We go to the park. We go to the beach. We go to Disney World.”
Saturday’s picnic recognized the work of parents like Waldhour that are already caring for these children, some for as long as ten years.
During the event, they also took a moment to thank two families that had recently signed on as new foster parents. After finishing the licensing process, they will be bringing children into their homes.
“We like to take an opportunity during the month of May…to really let them know that we appreciate what they are doing, to have some fellowship time with them and give them an opportunity to be with other foster parents,” Thomas said.
She said there are not enough parents stepping into the foster role, but the ones that have are doing amazing things for children.
“As responsible people in the community, if we are not taking care of the children in our community, we are not doing what is best for our community,” Thomas said.
The program provides parents with training to prepare for helping children work through their trauma, developmental stages and medical needs. Waldhour said she was thankful for the support through West Florida Foster Care, and she called on others in the community to get licensed.
“Don’t let the word foster discourage you. It sounds scary, and you hear a lot of negative things. But in reality, we have found it the most rewarding…They really just need someone to help love them and help get them on the right path in the hopes that they can get be reunited with their families,” she said.
As seen in the May 23 issue of Navarre Press.
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