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Demand for foster parents drastically increases in Broward County

Child Advocacy Summit scheduled for May 20 to spark statewide conversation

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The demand for foster parents is increasing in Broward County. In fact, those who work daily to place the most vulnerable children in loving homes, call it a crisis.

"The system is experiencing an overwhelming volume of children in care and we are looking for homes that will care for those children in a loving, nurturing environment," said Monica King, executive director of ChildNet Broward.

ChildNet is an organization contracted by the Department of Children and Families to handle case management in Broward County.

King said there are currently 3,500 children in state care. Of those, 800 are in foster homes and 300 are in group homes.

"For years and years I had thought about being a foster parent. I'm not sure why, but I always thought it would be a beautiful thing to do. But I was afraid," said Jennifer Little.

Little and her boyfriend, Rocco, squashed that fear and decided to open their hearts. One year ago, they signed up to be foster parents. A couple of months after that, they received a call about a little girl needing a home.

"I go to ChildNet and I meet this little girl and I do all of the appropriate paperwork. And they put her in my car and it was very surreal. From the moment we got her, it's been amazing," Little said, "I've been so impressed by the system. I mean, it's a very complicated system with a lot of pieces and motions. There's a lot of players. The whole experience has just been amazing."

For the past 10 months, Kadence, 2, has lived with Little and Rocco and has adjusted beautifully. She calls Little "Mommy," and she enthusiastically showed off her decorated room and her toys to Local 10 News. She's even learning about crops in the family's front yard garden.

Kadence is 1 of 8 children. She was taken from a loving mother who couldn't overcome a drug addiction. Only one of Kadence's siblings remains with biological family. Little said she keeps in touch with Kadence's mother and family.

"We went to dinner with the whole family and she got to see her daughter," Little said. "The biological mother got to see her daughter and spend a little time with her and see that she was OK."

Although DCF works to reunite foster children with their biological parents, the possibility of adoption is always there. Just last week, Little said Kadence's mother signed the appropriate paperwork for Little to adopt her daughter.

"If it weren't for Rocco and I, Kadence would be in the shelter with a lot of other children waiting for a home for any amount of time," Little said. "It could be weeks, months -- there are children who have been in foster care for years without having a home. As we sit here right now, there are children of all ages who have nowhere to go and they're basically, like, in a dorm room. And the people who are taking care of them are doing the best with the resources they have, but they have limited resources."

Little is sharing her story with hope that it encourages more people to consider becoming foster parents.

"If you really stop and think about it, the people who can, the people who have the means, the people who have the space, the people who have extra love lying around that they're not doing anything with, if they're not the ones, then who is? Who's going to do it?" Little said.

Due to the shortage of available foster parents, children in Broward County are having to be relocated.

"Those kids are now being sent to other counties that do have room, such as the west coast of Florida or Central Florida," said Michael Boorom, board president of the Heart Gallery.

The Heart Gallery is an organization that promotes adoption and enrichment of Broward's foster children.

Keeping foster children as close to their biological parents as possible is the mission of placement agencies.

"There are a lot of biological parents who are doing the work to get their lives together. They made some bad decisions and they're doing the work to get their lives together, to get the children back," Little said. "It's important that those people have access to their children along the way. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. You made some mistakes, you're turning it around, but your child is a five hour drive away for months, maybe a year. That doesn't work."

Kadence's life is like so many other children who are still waiting for a home built on love. They're counting on more people to consider fostering.

"They're amazing. They're children. They just need to be loved. They just need to be loved, that's it. It's the easiest thing," Little said.

The Heart Gallery is hosting the Child Advocacy Summit on May 20 to gain a wider perspective and encourage conversation statewide about the issue. The "Heart to Heart" breakfast is at 7:30 a.m. at the Global Event Center inside First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale. RSVP at info@heartgalleryofbroward.org.