Mission to end foster care crisis expanding in Clay County area

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CLAY COUNTY – Florida families are in crisis. In Clay County, 344 children have been removed from their parents and were living in out-of-home care as of Aug. 31. More than 58% of those children were in foster care. Better Together is on a mission to end this crisis.

You might know us for our Better Jobs program. In 2016, we began partnering with Jacksonville-area churches, including The Church of Eleven22, The Ville, Christian Family Chapel and Awaken. Our partnerships brought a host of job fairs, including our very first second-chance job fair in 2018, which included a coalition of community partners, such as Operation New Hope and the Clara White Mission.

From the beginning, we saw the need for our other program, Better Families. Better Families prevents the need for foster care by coming alongside families in crisis and supporting them by offering short-term hosting for their children and resources to help the parents help themselves, whether that’s an addiction recovery program, therapy or employment.

The need is great. Crisis hotlines are ringing off the hook. Florida’s abuse hotline receives 23,000 calls in an average month. An investigative report by the USA Today Network in Florida found that the state was struggling to keep up with the calls and often failed to find safe homes for foster children.

Families that were struggling or isolated before the pandemic are now even more at risk. Parents struggle to find safe child care, reliable transportation, housing and job opportunities. Without these simple supports, a family can fall into patterns of abuse and neglect.

Our solution works. We have been able to keep more than 3,000 children safe and out of foster care in Southwest Florida. Many of those children were referred to us by the Department of Children and Families. We get to know the whole person and the whole family. We figure out exactly what a family needs to break down barriers, navigate a crisis and be the parents they need to be for their children. We build a circle of support around these vulnerable families, connecting them to volunteers and faith institutions who want to help, while our team of child welfare professionals support the process. As long as the parents are willing to help themselves, their family succeeds.

Our solution also saves taxpayers money – potentially millions. The foster care system costs $45,000 per child a year. It costs us $1,200 a child to keep them out of foster care. And that’s done 100% with private dollars. We receive no public funding.

We are grateful to have more than 20 churches partnering with us in Northeast Florida and dozens of volunteers taking the first step to get involved.

During the next five years, our programs can end the foster care crisis in Jacksonville for good. But it will take people, churches, donors and businesses from all walks of life to get on board to solve these messy issues. We can’t do it alone. We need people like you. Please join us; learn more about our mission and how you can help at BetterTogetherUS.org.

Prevention will not fail our kids.

Megan Rose is the CEO of Better Together, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping children out of foster care by strengthening families through work and relational support. Learn more at www.BetterTogetherUS.org.

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