The Florida Department of Children and Families has launched a November campaign, “30 Days of Amazing Children: Exploring Adoption,” in celebration of National Adoption Month.
The campaign encourages Floridians to learn about adoption and showcases the stories of Florida children in the foster care system who are available for adoption.
According to DCF spokesman John Harrell, there are 750 children in Florida’s foster care program looking to be adopted, and 24 of them are teenagers located in North Central Florida.
“We strongly feel that all children deserve to have loving parents who can care for them,” Harrell said. “We don’t want children to grow up in the foster care system. The state does not make the best parent.”
Part of the DCF’s mission during this campaign is to help older children in the foster care system find permanent homes before they “age out.”
“You can find adoptive parents fairly easily for younger children, but it gets more challenging when you’re trying to look for adoptive parents for teenagers,” Harrell said.
The average age of children who are adopted in Florida is 6.5, according to Harrell. He estimated that more than half of the children up for adoption are teenagers, but of all children adopted last year, only 4.7 percent were 16 or older, and only 14.5 percent were between 11 and 15.
Lashon Jenkins, adoption specialist at the Children’s Home Society, said that the support of a permanent family is vital to a child’s success.
The CHS covers adoptions throughout 13 counties in central Florida. Jenkins said they usually succeed in placing children with permanent families before they age out of the system, but for the ones do not get adopted and do not choose to remain with their foster parents, there are programs being implemented to help them survive on their own.
“When kids age out of foster care, a lot of them have nowhere to go, and they don’t have a family to go to,” she said. “A lot of them get lost in the world and don’t have support.”
The CHS will host “Celebrate Adoption” Nov. 17 to commemorate National Adoption Month. The event, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Westside Park in Gainesville, is a celebration of the 153 adoptions completed through the CHS from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013.
Along with events going on throughout the month all over the state, interested Floridians can visit the Adopt Florida website at www.adoptflorida.org to learn about children currently up for adoption. Each day, a different video of a teen or sibling group will be featured on the site as part of the DCF’s campaign.
Bob Rooks, director of Florida’s Adoption Information Center, which responds to all inquiries sent to adoptflorida.org, said that for the past 10 years Florida has been in the top five states to show an increase in adoptions.
Last year, according to the DCF, 3,353 children were adopted from foster care, 100 more than the year before.
“Part of it is that we try to be responsive to families,” Rooks said.
The center receives over 10,000 calls per year and refers potential adoptive parents to community-based partners in their area, such as the CHS. Adoptive parents are offered assistance through the adoption process and after finalization. Rooks attributes at least part of Florida’s continuing improvement in adoption to an efficient support network for both parents and children.
Rooks said that the goal is to get children out of the foster care system within a year.
“Either get those children adopted or get them back to their family,” Rooks said. “If there’s any way to get the child back to the family, we all want that. But if we’re not able to do that, we want to get them adopted within a year.”
Along with visiting www.adoptflorida.org, prospective parents can find more information about adoption and Florida children available for adoption by calling 1-800-96-ADOPT.