by Tonyaa Weathersbee

For the most part, children come into this world equipped with potential, curiosity and optimism. All of which should be nurtured within a stable family.
child panting
But family is the thing that is missing from the lives of far too many children in North Florida.

Many wind up in foster care after living in homes in which rampant drug abuse, domestic violence and neglect threaten to take a toll on the innocence and drive that under the right roof could be shaped into something lasting and positive.

It’s a good thing then that Family Support Services of North Florida has become tops in finding the right roofs for so many children.

Recently the agency, which operates in Duval and Nassau counties, ranked first in the state for the number of foster children it found permanent homes for in the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

It managed to get 318 children adopted. What that means is that with 3,252 foster children adopted statewide last year, nearly one in 10 found a permanent home through FSS.

The agency accomplished the same feat in 2007-2008 when it accounted for nearly 19 percent of foster children who were adopted in the state.

Leadership urgency

“It is amazing,” Lee Kaywork, chief executive director of FSS, told me. “A lot of people recognize that these children need the same amount of love and same amount of care as other children, and they’re willing to give it to them.

“There are a lot of good people who are involved in helping us. [Circuit] Judge David Gooding does a marvelous job of keeping everyone on track …”

Said Gooding: “I think the No. 1 thing [in doing adoptions] is having a sense of urgency with leadership. If you don’t have that sense of urgency, it’s easy to pass it on to the next week or the next month. But in the life of a child, every day and every month matters.”

Kaywork also credited Dawn Lopez of Action News 47 for highlighting children who want to be adopted through her weekly show, “Jacksonville’s Children,” as well as Heart Gallery of North Florida — a traveling photo exhibit that features foster children who want to be adopted. It has a display at the Main Library.

Of course, it’s tougher for children to be adopted as they get older and as they enter their teenage years.

But Kaywork said the agency is seeing a dwindling number of teenagers who have been in foster care for more than 24 months.

“Not every child in foster care, particularly teenagers, wants to be adopted,” he said. “But we have a lot of services for them if they age out of care.”

Yet finding adoptive homes for foster children is perhaps the single greatest thing that can be done toward giving them a normal life. And while what FSS is doing is commendable on one level, it reflects a sad reality.

Advertising to strangers

It’s sad that so many of the foster children’s original families couldn’t overcome the scourge of drugs, violence and dysfunction long enough to provide a stable, nurturing environment for them.

It’s sad that these children have to advertise themselves to strangers for a shot at getting a permanent home that many other children take for granted, that they have to hope that a stranger finds them cute enough or likeable enough to do for them what their parents either would not or could not, do.

But at least FSS as well as Gooding and the other agencies it partners with are working to bring more smiles and more of a future to children in foster care.

They’re a great example of a village raising a child. Even if it means finding them a new roof in the village to live under.
Adoption Writer
For more information on adopting a child from foster care, call (904) 421-5839. Or go to

To contact the Author, please email her at

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