Florida's Center for

CHILD WELFARE

Information and Training Resources for Child Welfare Professionals



NEW Florida Youth SHINE (FYS) and Florida’s Children First are excited to share their latest advocacy project with you, Youth Voices Amplified – A Digital Story Experience. Their newest Digital Story series is a collection of 7 digital storytelling videos by Florida Youth SHINE.

A new Digital Story will be released each Friday at noon.

My name is Rebekka Behr. I am 22 years old and recently graduated from Florida State University. I double-majored in Family & Child Sciences and Sociology with a minor in Business and I became a sister of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Incorporated in Fall 2018. I was placed in foster care at the age of 16 and aged out of care in 2016. Since then, I have been advocating for change in the foster care system with Florida Youth SHINE and at FSU with the Unconquered Scholars Program. I am passionate about the advocacy work that I do, as I know it can lead to better lives for children in foster care and those who have aged out. As a statewide board member, I have worked with my board members during this transition to online advocacy work and realized how beneficial it can be to many youth in Florida. My ultimate goal is to build a nonprofit that works with youth in foster care and youth who experience homelessness during their time in high school, to help better assist their transition to adulthood as well as to gain an education. I am currently the Vice-Chair and Peer Specialist of Florida Youth Shine and I work for the State of Florida.

My story involves about 1% of my experiences of the time I spent in care. It really touches on my first few weeks in the foster care system and how I was a terrified teenager. My topic focuses on adults making a child feel as if they had entered a prison rather than entering a new place that they are already unsure about. This issue is very important because when the system takes a child out of a home they have known their entire lives, the adults involved should be trying to make the child as comfortable as possible to ensure that they know that this is not their fault. I, among other youth, have felt that the system makes the child feel as though they are entering the prison system- having cops present at the time they are taking the child, fingerprinting, locking them in rooms, and screaming at them when they don’t know what is going on - is prison behavior.

The digital storytelling experience was hard for me. Finding which part of my story I wanted to tell was difficult because I did not have the best experience in foster care. I want others to know my story so that they know how important it is for everyone involved with the child to know how to treat the child and to know the child’s rights. It made me feel frustrated that I even went through what I went through considering my family would have been fine with minimal services outside of the system. I do blame the system for the lack of relationship I have with most of my family members. Youth Advocacy is important because when decision-makers are coming up with a new bill or wanting to change something in any form of system that involves youth, it is important to have someone with experience involved. For the Foster Youth Community, this means foster youth. It would be so much better if youth were involved in the development of new programs, bills, and changes within the system, than just having adults that never experienced the system speak on behalf of the kids. Florida Youth Shine is important to youth because it is an organization that gives a voice to youth who may not have a voice otherwise. Florida Youth Shine is run by youth, with youth, and for youth to help advocate for themselves and to educate the community on different topics. These topics range from foster care rights to normalcy to how to speak and any other topics the community might find important.

I want viewers to recognize and take away that no child should lose the right to take a step outside or to go to school or to see their siblings. My call to action would be to step up in your community - volunteer, advocate, and help provide a voice to those who may not have one.

I hope you enjoy my story.

Click here to watch Rebekka's Story

My name is LaSean Adams. I am 15 years old and a freshman in high school. The first time I came into foster care; I was just one year old. I was so blessed to be placed with a loving family. My foster dad, Leon, is still a big part of my life today. The second time I came into care; I was eight. My three siblings and I found ourselves scattered throughout Southwest Florida. Luckily for my brother and I, a brand-new foster mom named Nikki agreed to reunite us. We lived with her for the next two years. When I was 11, I opted to reunify with our birth mother but my brother stayed with Nikki. Our reunification was challenging and lasted for two years. My sister and I found ourselves back in foster care for the third time in 2018. Fortunately, I ended up living with my previous foster mom, Nikki, and my Brother Byron! Eventually, we were both adopted by her and are loving life, living happily, and reaching our goals.

My story is about finding the people in my life who love me unconditionally and me working my tail off to become the best version of myself. The digital storytelling experience was easier for me than I thought. Having never really shared my own personal experience out loud with others, I was surprised with how easily my story flowed once I knew what I wanted to tell the world. I feel proud that someone might view my story and gain hope from it. FYS has played such a major role in my family and my life. Having a group beside you to socialize with, to build you up, to support you, to advocate for you and alongside you, is priceless. I think that there is great reward in surrounding ourselves with others who have walked a similar journey, even if the only thing we have in common with our peers is time in foster care. I want viewers to know from my story to never lose HOPE. You are responsible for your actions and you should surround yourself with others who build you up and not tear you down.

I hope you enjoy my story.

Click here to watch LeSean's Story

My name is Brian Thompson, I am 22 years old and gender-fluid. I came in to care at the age of sixteen and left when I aged out at the age of eighteen. I am currently in school for music composition and vocal performance, and I work part-time with Florida Youth Shine as an intern. I hope to become a professional musician (singer/songwriter, performer, and producer). Youth advocacy is very important to me. It allows me to advocate for youth who have come before me and those who will come after.

My story is about sibling separation, and how my sister and I were able to overcome that obstacle not once but twice. During the creation of this piece, it took some self-reflecting for me to realize how to tell my story in the best way possible. It is very different from how I normally tell my story and I am proud of the end product. I want people to understand that sibling separation happens and can/should be avoided. Being separated from family that you love is as if you are being cut off from a piece of yourself.

My video is a love letter to all siblings out there. People out there who have siblings that they love know how it feels to lose a sibling. Whether it be by blood or other connection. Having a sibling (whom I love) is a cheat code to life because of the support we give each other. I truly believe that she was the first person to ever love me for me and understand who I am as a person. I am so grateful for her each day. I hope you enjoy my story.

Click here to watch Brian's Story

Hi Everyone! I am Maria and I am excited to serve as Florida Youth SHINE’s Statewide Chair! I was placed in foster care at the age of nine with my three siblings. By the age of 11, my siblings were all placed with their fathers and I remained in foster care until I was adopted at 16 by my wonderful foster parents. I am now 24 years old and have a lot to be proud of. I was able to achieve certain milestones like obtaining a driver’s license, graduating with my Bachelor’s in Social Work and a minor in Criminal Justice from Florida International University, and now working full-time within the child welfare system. I am proud to be a strong advocate with Florida Youth SHINE. I attend local chapter meetings consistently, advocate on a state and local level, and always recruit for our chapter. I have traveled to Tallahassee to speak to legislators about policies and changes and helped educate people through numerous guest speaking events about child welfare. As the FYS Statewide Chair, I plan to work with chapters across Florida to assist in any way I can during this unprecedented time.

My story is about how Florida Youth SHINE helped me to be a leader and gave me a family. It was important for FYS to be known by other youth. The digital storytelling experience was amazing. I loved being in a shared experience to create something so powerful. It did bring up some negative past experiences that interrupted my dreams for a while, but talking to my peers helped me going forward. Youth advocacy and FYS is vital for youth who have experienced care as it helps them find an unconditional support system where they will be treated equally and heard. My hope is for staff members to realize how important it is for youth to be heard, so to encourage them to join FYS or local organizations of their interest.


I hope you enjoy my story.

Click here to watch Maria's Story

My name is Byron Adams, and I am 17 years old. I’m a junior in high school and a member of the International Baccalaureate program. I’ve been in foster care twice in my life, once when I was 3 and the second time was when I was 10. When I was 3 years old, I was placed with strangers. Little did I know how much of a building block Leon and Jessica would be in my life. After a few months being in care a second time, my brother and I found a new foster mom together. As time went by, my new mom taught me how important it is to be someone to stand up for myself and others. These days I’m either at school, my job, McDonalds, wrestling, weightlifting, the Statistics team, FYS meetings, or home with my family and friends.

During the digital storytelling, I was so happy to see how much courage the other young adults showed while sharing their stories. It showed me that I wasn’t alone in wanting to share how important it is to let your voice be heard. By being the Vice-President of my local FYS chapter, it helped give me a platform to be able to speak my truth. By going up to Tallahassee I was able to speak to dozens of Senators and Representatives and it gave me the opportunity to shadow the President of the Senate for a week. I hope that viewers take our stories and use them as a beacon to help guide others find their voices.

I hope you enjoy my story.

Click HERE to watch Bryon's story.

This Week

Communicating During A Crisis: Making Challenges an Opportunity

The protective factors we advocate for in families, including social connections, are the same protective factors that will keep child welfare organizations surviving and thriving despite a global pandemic. Maintaining or enhancing robust communications and advocacy efforts ensures that organizations are communicating and educating policy-makers and other decision-makers about critical services being provided—and the impacts an organization is having despite the COVID-19 crisis.

Presenters: Megan Branham, LMSW, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy Programs, North Public Relations; and Allison North Jones, Founder and CEO, North Public Relations

Shifting to a Remote Children and Family Services Workforce: The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck and it became clear that one of the best options to help curb and prevent the spread of the virus was social distancing, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services moved quickly to ensure that its child abuse hotline remained staffed 24 hours a day. This meant securing equipment and training employees—and had the added benefit of improving morale and reducing the number of callbacks.

Presenter: Marc D. Smith, Acting Director, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

Videoconferencing in Child Welfare: An Appreciative Inquiry

Videoconferencing has positively affected connections between parents and the child welfare system— though with notable limitations. Some counties have reported increased parent engagement and increased efficiencies for case and court workers. Groups that have traditionally been marginalized may particularly experience benefits, with less disruptive time schedules doing much to alleviate intimidation and burden. Where appropriate, to the exclusion of investigations and family visits, we urge child welfare practitioners and researchers to embed videoconferencing in practice models post-COVID.

Presenters: Angela Pittman-Vanderweide, CEO, NeuroAgile Leadership & Workforce Consulting; Robin O’Brien, Senior Advisor, Public Consulting Group; and Erica Vilay, Consultant, Public Consulting Group

Click HERE for more information and to register for this event.

The Florida Department of Education mandates that all school districts educate students and staff about human trafficking. One program doing this work, through a “train the trainer” model is Selah Way Foundation, a global network of best practices and service providers in the global anti-sex trafficking movement. Presenters with the Selah Way Foundation will discuss the issue of human trafficking, schools, and how local communities can develop programming using a collaborative model. They also will focus on how important it is for children to be informed about human trafficking and how to partner in community with local programs, child welfare, and other local stakeholders.

Click here for additional information and to register.


Upcoming

Child Poverty and the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the hardships of children living in poverty, with school closings and reduced access to food and housing hitting these children the hardest. This essay describes these and other inequities in pandemic-related harms to children in families that are the most vulnerable. The author points out that solutions to the scourge of child poverty have been available for some time and urges readers to become active in countering the beliefs, attitudes, and policies that perpetuate aberrantly high rates of child poverty in the world’s richest nation.

Presenter: Lenette Azzi-Lessing, Clinical Professor of Social Work, Boston University.

COVID-19’s Economic Impact: Threatening a Decade of Progress in U.S. Food Security

As the United States struggles to mitigate and contain the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the nation has faced shocks to household-level income and employment not seen since the Great Depression. As key determinants of food security, these secondary effects of the pandemic challenge working families’ ability to access adequate nutritious food. Public policy measures, including the roll out of Pandemic EBT and adaptations to SNAP and school-based meals, aim to alleviate skyrocketing food insecurity; however, the unsustainable strain on charitable food organizations to meet demand for private assistance suggests that public benefits are insufficient to meet this need

Presenter: Emma Langley, MPH Candidate, CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy; and Shannon Strother, Vice President for Programs, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Click HERE for more information and to register for this event.

Join the Florida Coalition of Children (FCC) for an introductory overview of eight well supported evidence based practice models presented by the model developers in a IV-Part webinar series designed to better acquaint the state and nationwide community of practice with the history, outcomes, target population, staffing model, data and impact of their programs.

Click here for additional information and to register.

Join the Florida Coalition of Children (FCC) for an introductory overview of eight well supported evidence based practice models presented by the model developers in a IV-Part webinar series designed to better acquaint the state and nationwide community of practice with the history, outcomes, target population, staffing model, data and impact of their programs.

Click here for additional information and to register.

The Big Bend Coalition Against Human Trafficking (BBCAHT) and The Survive and Thrive Advocacy Center (STAC) invite you to participate in BBCAHT’s Monthly 3rd Friday Community Training Program. Telemedince has exploded in availability since the onset COVID-19 and, like many innovations from 2020, this one is likely to stay with us. Knowing this, how can today’s world of telemedicine be safe and effective for surivors of human trafficking? What are the issues that healthcare providers need to know when assisting child and adult survivors in person, as well as during telehealth visits? Is insurance available for human trafficking survivors in the ACA/health insurance marketplace? How can service providers, child welfare organizations, and community members support survivors’ physical and mental health needs during the pandemic and afterward? This program will benefit everyone, not only those in healthcare. (Note: Organizers are in the process of seeking CEU’s for some healthcare providers under Florida licensure laws)

Click this link for more information and to register for this free event.

Join the Florida Coalition of Children (FCC) for an introductory overview of eight well supported evidence based practice models presented by the model developers in a IV-Part webinar series designed to better acquaint the state and nationwide community of practice with the history, outcomes, target population, staffing model, data and impact of their programs.

Click here for additional information and to register.

Join the Florida Coalition of Children (FCC) for an introductory overview of eight well supported evidence based practice models presented by the model developers in a IV-Part webinar series designed to better acquaint the state and nationwide community of practice with the history, outcomes, target population, staffing model, data and impact of their programs.

Click here for additional information and to register.