Did you know there are 101 teenagers in Duval and Nassau counties who are looking for a forever family?
These are children who, due to no fault of their own, have been removed from their parents' home because of abuse or neglect.
We want to help these children find a permanent place to live with a family that loves them.
Michael Weisheit, the director of Family Support Services, told me this morning on The Morning Show that many people are hesitant to adopt a teenager under the assumption that they will have little time to make an impact on the teenager's life before the child leaves home for college.
Family Support Services contracts with northeast Florida's Department of Children and Families to find foster homes and provide services to families in need.
Weisheit also told me some people assume that it's the child's fault they have been removed from their home. She says that's just not true. Children living in foster homes are there because their parent or guardian was neglecting or abusing them.
As we learned from a local couple who recently adopted 15- and 17-year-old brothers, teenagers need a loving adult in their lives now, more than ever. Lynn and Kevin Deady say they were stunned to learn so many older children can't find homes. It's why they made the decision to adopt their teenage sons once their biological son was old enough.
Lynn Deady said, "Everybody has a hard time with teenagers," regardless if they are your biological children or not.
The Deadys have received help from Children's Home Society with counseling and other services made available to adoptive parents.
"They have some wonderful therapists who are really good at helping these kids with what they've got going on," Deady said. "These kids are obviously burdened with a lot of grief, and they've had a lot of loss and they're not up to speed with their peers."
Children's Home Society is the oldest agency in the city providing foster homes, therapy and even a program for pregnant teenagers.
Yara Moreno, who helps coordinate adoptions for CHS, said, "We have counseling services to help the families adjust to the transitions of adoption. We have case management services. We link our families with other services."
What few people may realize is that children in state custody who are adopted are eligible for health insurance coverage (Medicaid) and qualify for college tuition scholarships. Parents also receive an adoption tax credit.
Kevin Deady, Lynn and Kevin's 15-year-old adoptive son, said, "It's good to get adopted. It's good to have a family. I love my family so much."
Kevin has special needs and gets support services through CHS and Family Support Services. He and his older brother were adopted together.
Two-thirds of the 165 children available for adoption in Duval and Nassau counties are teenagers and some of them have a sibling(s). CHS and FSS make every effort to keep siblings together through the adoption process.
Kevin Deady has only lived with his new parents for a few months, but in that short time he told us, "When I grow up I want to move my house closer to here."
His mother points out that adopting teenagers means not just loving them now, but also giving them a place to come home to when they are in college. A loving home during the holidays.
"We have really good kids," she said. "They need love, we all do, and that's understandable."