There are 7,000 children in foster care in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough Counties. Many of the children are removed from their homes due to some type of abuse or neglect. These children often find themselves a part of the foster care system, not sure what the future holds for them.
April is Child Abuse Awareness & Prevention Month and local child advocates and agencies will be spotlighting the importance of family reunification in Hillsborough County during their Tuesday, April 3, 2018 event in Tampa.
The event will take place on the third floor of the Glazer Children’s Museum, located at 110 West Gasparilla Plaza. The kick-off for the press and invited guests will begin at 11 a.m. on the third floor of the museum. This event corresponds with the Hillsborough County Children’s Board ‘Free Tuesday’ event at the museum, which offers free admission to the museum from noon – 7 p.m.
The Florida Department of Children and Families, Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services, Deveruex, Guardian ad Litem and other community based caregivers will celebrate families being reunified and children being kept out of foster care at the event.
One local family highlighted during the event will be Tara and Elita. (Last names are not being provided) Young Elita was removed in April 2017 due to verified findings of physical injury. However, with the help of these agencies, they were able to overcome their problems and were successfully reunified late last year. More details about their story can be found at the end of this news release.
The main goal of the Family Reunification Team at Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services is to find a way to reunite these families by identifying and problem solving methods to keep these children safe and avoiding future incidents of abuse and neglect. Their success means keeping families together and children out of foster care.
“All children deserve safe, healthy and happy childhoods,” said DCF Regional Managing Director Jennifer Kuhn. “We are proud of the work of our community partners in building protective factors to ensure families have the opportunity to not only safely reunify but thrive.”
“Protecting a child’s safety is always the number one priority. Providing funding for the supports in the community both formal and informal is the Children’s Board top priority,” said Kelley Parris, Executive Director of the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County.“ “Keeping Hillsborough County’s children safe, healthy, developmentally on track and ready to learn is the best defense to child abuse and neglect”
The Florida Department of Children and Families parenting resource guide can be found at the following link: http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/programs/childwelfare/caregivers
Tara and Elita’s Reunification Story
Tara’s daughter, Elita, was removed from her home on April 21, 2017 due to verified findings of physical injury (bone fracture) to Elita. Tara was not home during the time of the incident, however the explanation of injury was inconsistent. This case was initially an upfront termination of parental rights case, but after further information was obtained, and the father admitted to causing the injuries, the father’s rights were terminated and the mother was given a case plan which she successfully completed.
The mother obtained a permanent injunction when she became aware the father caused these injuries and the father can no longer have contact with the mother or child until the child turns 18. The mother filed for divorce immediately after and took all the necessary steps to terminate contact with the father.
A critical component to this case is that Tara has a very supportive relationship with the foster parent, the Guardian ad Litem, Case Management Organization, and Family Reunification Team, which she felt was consistent throughout the completion of her case plan. In addition, Tara’s employer was very supportive and allowed her to take whatever time she needed to comply with her required tasks. Tara consistently attended all her visitations, she regularly provided for Elita, and maintained communication with the foster parent so together they could co-parent. Tara was successfully reunified on December 12, 2017.
(Tara and Elita will be available during the 11-12 p.m. event at the Glazier Children’s Museum to speak to the media.)