The Spirit of Resiliency

By: Lauren Parker Prekop, Florida Region Adoptions Case Manager

Resiliency: an occurrence of rebounding or springing back; a movement back from an impact.

-American Heritage Dictionary

No one better exemplifies resiliency than the children and teens in our foster care system!

Losing a family, whether temporarily or permanently, is one of the most difficult experiences in a young person’s life, and one which will leave an indelible impact on their life. If there is no appropriate relative or family friend to help, the child must move to an environment completely unfamiliar to them: a “foster home” or “group home”. Even with genuine and welcoming foster parents or group home staff, the child or children will likely still feel like they are in a stranger’s home. Once there, they must try to adapt the best they can, while building a life with a new family.

Yet, despite all of this, children and teens in the foster care system have a lesson to teach us all! Overcoming a number of obstacles and hardships, these young people still go on, and they go strong! Spend time with these amazing kids and it quickly becomes apparent that their spirits will not be dampened.

Service workers at One Hope United witness this strength, as they spend a lot of time with these kids, particularly while transporting them to a visitation with a parent, a therapy appointment, a court hearing, or, maybe even an adoption event (if the child or teen is available for adoption). These opportunities can be some of the best times to get to know a young person.  It is during this time that a lot of them will open up and talk about their feelings related to foster care or discuss their future goals. Some may sing loudly to the radio and dance around to the latest hit song.  It’s inspiring to see how happy and expressive some can be, despite all of the negative things they’ve encountered in their life. 

Many of the kids also have incredible talents, especially the teens.  In a court hearing they might boldly share a thing or two about themselves with the Magistrate. Some aren’t shy at all and will speak their mind. At a news event while seeking forever families, these teens might perform a dance they choreographed while being filmed by a news crew. At an adoption event, they may be the star of an improvised skit. On the basketball court, they may be the player with the most points for the game. They could also be the star of their high school football team. Other kids create art, write heartfelt poetry, cook gourmet meals, or help around the house in some other capacity.

The number of ways in which the children and teens in our foster care system express themselves is limitless! We salute the beautiful spirit in each and every one of them.

A Family of Runners in Florida

Florida-Region-Adoption-Month-StoryMany older children and teenagers in foster care are still waiting to be adopted. Almost one year ago, Aubree Rose, a 17-year-old former One Hope United client, was one of those children.

Aubree had experienced a rocky childhood and adolescence. Her mother used drugs, traded sex for needs, and was in and out of jail. At five years old, Aubree had been abused and witnessed domestic abuse between her mother and mother’s boyfriend. Aubree was removed from the home and placed with her grandparents for a short time. During that time Aubree stayed out all night, snuck her boyfriend into the home and always seemed angry. Her grandparents felt overwhelmed and did not think they could care for Aubree anymore, so in February 2012 they took her to a youth shelter in Orlando, Florida.

The shelter did not work out very well for Aubree either. She habitually ran away and was depressed. Seeing that the group home placement was not going well for Aubree, the One Hope United team discussed other placement options with her. On Dec. 6, 2012, she was placed in a traditional foster home with first-time foster parents, Daniel and Sarah Hendess.

The Hendesses had hosted several teenage foreign exchange students over the years, and felt called to becoming foster parents. They knew they wanted a teenage foster child and as soon as they received the call that a teenage girl was in need of a placement, they offered Aubree a home.

“She was the brave one,” Sarah said. “She agreed to move in with strangers and to make the best of it. She really wanted to be with a family and she wanted to make it work.”

The family’s One Hope United case worker had discussed Aubree’s history of running away with the Hendesses. Sarah sat down with Aubree and told her that she hoped Aubree would never feel like her only option would be to run away, but if she ever did have that feeling that she should always come talk to them about what was bothering her.

Aubree has never run away from the Hendesses’ home, but the family has bonded a great deal from running together. The Hendesses have been runners for many years and invited Aubree to join their running group. Aubree is now training for her first 10K, which will be in December.

Aubree is enrolled in virtual high school and is expecting to graduate in December 2014. After she graduates she is thinking about joining the military or going to school to work in a human services field.

The Hendesses’ advice to families who are considering becoming foster parents is to “Just do it.” Sarah explained that the perfect time will never come, and you just have to make the decision.

“One of the great things about having a teenager is that she can articulate how she is feeling and what she needs,” said Sarah. “I think a lot of times people avoid fostering or adopting a teenager because they think it’s going to be trouble. Don’t overlook the older kids because there are good ones out there looking for someone who won’t turn them away.”

Tampa's WFLA-TV features OHU family who adopted five siblings out of foster care

ohu-harre-wflatvThe Harre family was featured in a Mother’s Day story for WFLA-TV News Channel 8 in Tampa, Fla. The family, with help from One Hope United, recently adopted five siblings out of foster care — expanding their family to 12 children. 

“Just knowing she’s there for me makes every day worth living,” 15-year-old Vanessa said about her mom, Tammy Harre.

Click here to watch the segment.

Tampa-area five-sibling group in foster care finds forever home — together

In honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, One Hope United is highlighting the work it is doing to prevent child abuse, strengthen families and create healthy communities.

One Hope United helps families like the Morris* siblings.

The five siblings, ages 4 to 14, were living in Hillsborough County with their mother, who had a severe substance abuse problem and was unable to maintain their home. She did not consistently pay utility bills or keep up with housework. Their father was not involved with the family.

The Florida Department of Children and Families removed the children from the home. Because it is difficult to find one home to accommodate five siblings, they were separated for more than a month before finding a foster home to care for all of them.

Being apart from siblings can add to the trauma children experience when being moved from their homes.

 “Our ultimate goal is to keep siblings together because it continues to form that bond,” said Lasonja Houston, director of programs at One Hope United in Tampa. “It helps them grow as individuals to maintain their identity and their family.”

However, safety also is imperative. “We make sure we are doing all we can do to make sure that child is safe,” Houston said.

The Morris children were then moved for a short-term placement with the Harre family – which ultimately became a perfect fit.

 “We were babysitting for a week and fell in love with them,” said Tampa Bay-area resident Tammy Harre. She and her husband, Brian, live on a four-acre farm and have four biological children, two adopted children and one foster child.

All of the children urged their parents to keep them together. “Our biological kids and the oldest foster child wrote us a note asking if the Morris children could stay with us permanently,” Tammy Harre said.

The Harres easily fit the children into their family, giving them chores to do around the farm and enrolling them in classes such as gymnastics, dance and piano.

“If there’s someone in a child’s corner, they have the potential to do so much more,” Tammy Harre said.

Studies show that a supportive adult is key in a child’s ability to thrive as it aids in emotional and social competence.

Plans for reunifying the children with their parents fell through when the mother did not follow through with services and their father did not show up for court.Studies

The Harre family officially adopted the children in January.

“Now the children are secure in their family identity as they recognize that God has a plan for each of their lives,” Tammy Harre said.

One Hope United launched a digital Blue Ribbon Month campaign (www.BlueRibbonMonth.org) aimed at raising awareness and funds to support child abuse prevention programs and services. The website gives people a place to go to help raise awareness and financial support for One Hope United’s programs that prevent child abuse and prepare children for a prosperous future.  There are many ways to get involved: host a fundraiser at your school, church or work; spread the word on social media or by forwarding articles through email; and make a donation.

Follow One Hope United on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/1hopeunitedflorida and Twitter @1hopeunited. Use #1hope4kids when tweeting.

*Name changed for privacy.

About One Hope United: One Hope United is a private human-service organization that offers a diverse array of prevention, intervention and community-based programs. The agency serves thousands of children and families with a vision of ensuring the successful transition of our children to healthy and productive adults. For more information, visit www.onehopeunited.wpengine.com.

Services, support for at-risk families help create healthy communities

CHICAGO (April 1, 2013)–In honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, One Hope United is launching a digital Blue Ribbon Campaign (www.BlueRibbonMonth.org) aimed at raising awareness and funds to support programs that keep children safe. Every April, people across the country wear blue ribbons in support of Child Abuse Prevention Month. 

Child abuse and neglect can have long-term effects on the development of a child. A safe, nurturing home and stable relationships contribute to healthy cognitive and emotional development, allowing children to thrive and become successful adults.

Child maltreatment also costs the nation billions of dollars per year, impacting healthcare, mental health, judicial and public health and social service systems, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

 “One Hope United programs and services prevent child abuse by providing resources, support and strategies that strengthen at-risk families,” said Bill Gillis, president and CEO of One Hope United.  “Protecting children sets them on a path toward a successful adulthood and creates healthy, prosperous communities. “

Child abuse and neglect is a serious concern in the United States.

The Children’s Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports:

— More than 2 million allegations of child abuse or neglect were investigated by child protective services agencies in the United States in federal fiscal year (FFY) 2011.

— The highest rate of abuse and neglect occurs among children ages birth to 1 year old.

— It is nationally estimated that more than 1,500 children died from abuse or neglect in FFY 2011.

Join One Hope United in its efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect and prepare children for a prosperous future. To learn more, visit www.BlueRibonMonth.org.

Follow One Hope United on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/1hopeunited and Twitter @1hopeunited. Use #1hope4kids when tweeting.

About One Hope United: One Hope United is a private human-service organization that offers a diverse array of prevention, intervention and community-based programs. The agency serves thousands of children and families in Illinois, Florida, Wisconsin and Missouri with a vision of ensuring the successful transition of our children to healthy and productive adults. For more information, visit www.onehopeunited.wpengine.com.

Cooking event helps prepare youth for independent living

One Hope United youth and staff in Sebring, Fla., recently enjoyed a four-day cooking event as part of an annual Intensive Summer Learning Experience, which aims to prepare teens for independence.

OHU partnered with the Lead agency, Case Management Organizations, for the event and this year encouraged group participation by all agency staff and employees, rather than hire a professional chef, as had been done in prior years.

“The teens were extremely involved and excited by the event and prepared some knock-your-socks-off foods,” said Michelle Ramirez, director of operations at OHU in Sebring. “They surpassed everyone’s expectations.”

Youth prepared four-course meals. Daily theme and menus were All-American Day, Southern Food Day, Latin American Day and Italian/Pizza day. They selected recipes, created shopping lists and traveled together to a local supermarket to shop, just as if they were living on their own. (This year they did not have to budget their food, but that will be added to next year’s curriculum).

A local church offered the use of its kitchen and facility, and Case Management Organizations provided the fiscal support.

The teens won prizes for their creations. One youth, who prepared delicious food, recently turned 18 and moved into his own home. “He cooked some mean hamburgers and was able to take the grill for his new place,” said Ramirez, who helped plan the event along with Life Coach Lisa Kinchen, Program Specialist Andre Davis and Family Support Worker Rachel Edenfield.

Each day there was a Chef Andre’s Corner, which featured a surprise delicacy. Items included eel sushi, goat stew, gator meatballs and calamari. Most of the youth sampled the items, even though they did not find out what they were until the end of the week. One youth liked the eel so much he took the leftovers to his peers in his group home.

The event went off without a hitch, except for when the steak and shrimp fell into the soap-filled sink just after completion; a minor finger injury caused by slicing; blackened fajitas; and a plastic cooking pan that was placed in the hot oven.

By the end of the experience the youth who participated acquired new skills and great memories. We look forward to the 2013 event!

Pictured: Andre Davis, program specialist in OHU’s Florida Region, helped plan a four-day cooking event to prepare youth for independent living. These gator meatballs were among the delicacies youth sampled.

Boy with special needs finds forever home

When Adam was born, he was immediately placed in foster care. His father was in jail and his mother had threatened harm to an older sibling, who later was adopted. She also had a history of drug abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues and unstable housing. Both parents had their parental rights terminated.

Adam, now 8 years old, has special needs. He has autism and a variety of issues, including microcephaly; sensory food aversion; and impulse control, developmental and communication disorders. He has moved among foster homes 19 times. Despite those obstacles, Adam steadily made progress and did well in his school program. One Hope United continued to look for an appropriate adoption match for Adam.

At a recent match event, Mara, a single mom of a 17-year-old autistic son, saw Adam and they instantly connected. Adam spent time with her and he was happy, smiling “a big, beautiful grin,” said OHU Adoption Supervisor Barbara Hester. “From the very beginning, it was like he was home.”

Mara adopted Adam, set up schooling and made medical arrangements for him. He continues to thrive. One Hope United is grateful to have found a happy home for this special boy.

Youth Adopted at 17 After Long Search for Right Match

Denny was born cocaine dependent. He never knew his father. He and his brother were removed twice from his mother’s care before her rights were terminated when he was 3 years old.

As he grew, it became clear that Denny had significant challenges. Quiet and polite, Denny was extremely uncomfortable in social situations and connected with few friends and family members. His most stable relative was consistently in and out of jail. He and his brother were separated in care and had very little contact. When Denny entered school, he was identified as having a low IQ and placed in special education classes. At age 9, Denny was placed in a group home where he remained for eight years.

One Hope United (OHU) received Denny’s case when he was 13, and began recruiting a family for him because he wanted to be adopted. However, Denny had trouble connecting with adoptive families, and as an older child of minority status with special needs, it seemed that a family would never be found for Denny. His case manager did her best to prepare him for life on his own, but worried about his ability to do so with his challenges and lack of support system.

One day, OHU-Miami sent a home study to OHU-Orlando for a single man living in South Florida. He worked at a school, had experience in adopting and knew a lot about the services in his area. He had a passion for adopting children from the system and providing them with better opportunities for their lives. After speaking to him on the phone, the adoptions supervisor thought Denny and the gentleman might make a good match. OHU coordinated a series of visits between Denny and the potential adoptive parent.

In November 2010, at 17.5 years old, Denny was placed with his adoptive parent. On February 7, he was officially adopted. Although he still has challenges to overcome, Denny’s adoptive parent is committed to supporting him on his trek to independence. The best part of Denny’s journey, for the OHU Adoptions Team, is that he will not travel alone.

Co-parenting techniques help reunify mother, son

Florida Region: When Renzo was 7 years old, he was placed in foster care because he had no caregiver: his legal father was reportedly dead, his mother was incarcerated on a work-release program, and his reputed father was apprehended in Texas while attempting to kidnap Renzo and take him to Mexico.

Renzo was placed in a foster home in Lakeland, Fla., while his mother, Paula, maintained daily contact with him from her work-release program about three hours away. Renzo’s foster mother learned about “co-parenting” and used some of those techniques to help Renzo and Paula stay in direct contact.

When Paula completed her work-release program about nine months later, she moved back to be near Renzo in Highlands County. Paula immediately began supervised visitation with her son and was eager to obtain stable housing and employment so she could be reunified with him. Renzo’s foster parents helped Paula find a home in Polk County so she could be even closer to Renzo and allow him to stay in the same school. His foster parents also invited Renzo’s mother to a holiday dinner so that she could be with her son.This relationship between the foster parents and Paula helped lead to Paula and Renzo being reunified just three months after she was released from incarceration.

The foster mother spoke to a group of supervisors from the Circuit Ten Case Management Organizations about the case and co-parenting. She said the family case manager she worked with provided support to her and her family and Paula.

Paula and Renzo were reunified after 363 days. A service provider still works closely with Paula to provide support services. Mother and son have faced challenges with daily living and Paula sometimes doubts herself, but support from everyone involved with the family will help ensure long-term success for Renzo and Paula.

OHU helps newborn with life-threatening condition find family

One Hope United is proud of its employees for helping create the miracle of quickly finding a home for an abandoned newborn baby with a life-threatening birth defect.

On Aug. 7, 2012, baby girl Doe was born in Sebring, Fla. The newborn was abandoned at the hospital, and through the Safe Haven Law, it was planned for her to be surrendered for adoption and placed through a private agency. This plan changed drastically when it was discovered that the child was born with a birth defect known as anencephaly, meaning she was missing parts of her brain and skull. Children with this defect typically live hours or days.

The hospital was intent on a prompt discharge of this infant, and the abuse registry was contacted based on the lack of a willing private adoption agency. Tireless efforts and collaboration occurred by Child Protective Investigations, Child Welfare Legal Services, and the lead agency, Heartland for Children, to prevent the child from entering foster care.

One Hope United was brought into this collaborative effort soon after, with state-level individuals also working to find this child a happy ending.

OHU Adoption Supervisor Barbara Hester completed an expedited home study to help give the baby girl a family and a name, although it was fully expected that the child would pass away before completing the legal process of adoption.

Ironically, the child was not deemed eligible for Children’s Medical Services, but was able to be placed in a home with licensed medical foster parents who had previously fostered a child who also had anencephaly. Her foster parents named the baby girl Maiya.

Barbara continued to reach out to the family following completion of the home study, and kept others working on the case informed of the status. Everyone working on the case was touched by the baby’s story, and one of the caring professionals cried after witnessing the miracle of finding her a home.

A garden sanctuary is being planned at OHU in Sebring as a daily reminder of this miracle. Special thanks to everyone involved who worked tirelessly to give little Maiya the fundamentals of an identity, a mother and a father.