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Groups work to keep foster siblings together

Groups work to keep foster siblings together

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Groups work to keep foster siblings together

By Larry Macke | Sept. 22, 2009 {1079}

More siblings in the foster care systems of Orange and Osceola counties have a better chance of remaining together and reuniting if they’ve been separated, thanks to a new agreement between the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home and Family Services of Metro Orlando in cooperation with Reeves Memorial United Methodist Church in Orlando.

Leaders cut the ribbon at Reeves Memorial United Methodist Church. Photo #09-1301.

The church which will serve as the first satellite office offering foster care services in the Children’s Home’s 101-year history. The agreement was celebrated at a ribbon cutting ceremony at Reeves Memorial in August.

The contract represents a step forward for foster care in the Central Florida counties, which largely had been limited to a maximum of five youth per home and sometimes resulted in the separation of siblings. The Children’s Home is licensed to manage homes with no theoretical limit in the number of foster children.

“We’re thrilled to join in partnership with Florida United Methodist Children’s Home,” said Greg Kurth, CEO of Family Services of Metro Orlando. “They offer a unique service to our children and youth that helps fill a need in our system of care.”

The Children’s Home immediately assumed responsibility for eight homes and 27 children, and according to the terms of the contract, the organization expects these figures to grow to at least 20 and 60, respectively, by the end of June 2010. The agreement also marks the home’s first expansion into Orange and Osceola counties, fulfilling a central tenant of its mission.

“We’re committed to continually serving more children and more families in more places and in more ways, and this is an embodiment of that goal,” said Wayne Strickland, the home’s director of program development.

Prior to the agreement, the Enterprise, Fla.-based Children’s Home operated primarily in Volusia and Flagler counties, providing housing, education, counseling, recreation and ministry opportunities to children and families in need, as well as foster care and adoption services. A subsequent agreement is expected to extend the organization’s foster care services into Hillsborough County, as well.

The agreement is a consequence of a request for proposals issued by Family Services of Metro Orlando aimed at finding a foster care services provider that could keep larger sibling groups together. The Children’s Home responded and won the contract.

The involvement of Reeves Memorial and its approximately 100-member congregation, however, is less about contracts and criteria than it is about the right place at the right time. Or, in the words of the Rev. Linda Tice, the church’s pastor, it’s about “God’s guiding hand.”

Knowing that it needed a local presence to ensure the success of its expansion into new territory, the Children’s Home conducted a survey of district churches with respect to availability of space in which to locate a satellite office and willingness to subscribe to the spirit of the effort. For the latter, the Children’s Home was seeking a congregation that would both embrace the existing foster families and serve as a potential recruitment source for new families. As it turns out, Reeves Memorial would soon have available space.

The Rev. Dr. Wayne Wiatt participates in the ribbon cutting ceremony. Photo #09-1302.

“We had a tenant renting an office that had to end its contract,” Tice said. “The timing was just perfect.”

In terms of support for Children’s Home mission, Tice first took the idea to the church leadership council and received an unequivocal, “Yes.” The congregational response similarly has been an enthusiastic, “Amen,” Tice said.

“People are seeing this as a good opportunity to perform some hands-on ministry and to pull together different parts of the church,” Tice said. “For instance, we have a thrift shop, and the (congregants) who run it asked how they could help. Now, the foster families can purchase items there at a discount.”

The families are also being routinely invited to church special events, and there is talk of “adopting” one or more families at Christmas to provide gifts for the children. These efforts are in addition to the emotional and spiritual support Reeves Memorial has committed to providing.

Perhaps most importantly, Strickland expects some reunions may be on the horizon.

“We’ve got plenty of children currently waiting and lots of sibling groups that are split up (in those counties),” he said. “We’d love to get them back together.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Macke is a freelance writer based in Vero Beach, Fla.