By Heather Bennett
Every day we are blessed to live in such a beautiful part of Florida. It’s a place where we witness families enjoying quality time together whether it’s biking, kayaking, SUPing, swimming or building sandcastles. Children’s laughter can be heard all around. However, not all children in our community are able to spend that quality time with their families. Did you know that there are over 1,400 kids in foster care throughout Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Escambia counties?
Children are separated from their parents and put into the foster care system due to physical abuse, drug abuse, neglect or incarceration. Their lives are uprooted from the familiarity of their home, for various reasons, to keep them safe. The Department of Children and Families, and the Families First Network find foster homes for these children, either traditional foster homes or group homes, until they can be reunified with their families, or until they are adopted.
Children in Crisis, in Fort Walton Beach, is a 501©(3) non-profit organization started by caring members of the community to help provide stability and security for those children in our community who are faced with such unimaginable situations. Children in Crisis created The Children’s Neighborhood, a group home, that serves Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Escambia counties. Before the opening of The Children’s Neighborhood in 2008, there was no emergency shelter in the community for children who were removed from their home on short notice due to an unsafe situation.
In addition to the Emergency Shelter, The Children’s Neighborhood consists of five foster homes with a married couple living in each home serving as house parents, a pavilion, playground, a recreation center, a food pantry and a teen transition home with eight apartments for those who have transitioned out of foster care due to their age. In addition to house parents, there’s a staff of volunteers that provide support, tutoring the children and helping them with their schoolwork. It’s a network of caring people who want these children to feel safe, to laugh and play, and to feel loved. There are 40-50 children living at The Children’s Neighborhood on any given day, with roughly 100 per year who come and go or stay. Since its opening in 2008, more than 900 children have been helped.
In the foster care system, more than 60% of children are separated from their siblings and placed in separate foster home. This causes them to go through another trauma during an already troubling experience. In addition to providing a home and security for children, the goal of Children in Crisis is to keep sibling groups together in one of their foster homes. So far, the adoptions through Children in Crisis have resulted in sibling groups being adopted together as well.
It takes millions of dollars a year to operate The Children’s Neighborhood. Children in Crisis holds in-house fundraisers and works with local businesses to have fundraisers for them, and of course donations are welcome.
Volunteers are also welcome with opportunities to serve in many areas, including helping with fundraisers. In homes, volunteers are also needed to help cook, clean, help with the kids, and other various tasks.
Support for Children in Crisis is very important for their continuation to provide care for the children here in our community, and children are the future. These are children who may one day be our neighbors, or coworkers or employees. Helping them now is a priority in continuing to build a strong community that will continue to thrive.
For more information on Children in Crisis, please visit: childrenincrisisfl.org.