Opening the Conversation about Gainesville Adoption with Jennifer Anchors
It’s common to think of adoption, foster care and child protective services as someone else’s problem. Yet with over 40 children in our community right now looking for permanent, adoptive homes, Gainesville has the unique opportunity to serve children in need in their own Alachua County.
Children’s Home Society of Florida offers both a haven and a helping hand to children and families in need of support. Here, Executive Director Jennifer Anchors shares more about the unique work CHS performs in the community and how local individuals, families and businesses can get involved.
Tell me about the Children’s Home Society of Florida. What does it do in the community?
Children’s Home Society of Florida’s mission is “Embracing Children. Inspiring Lives,” and that’s exactly what we work to do. We believe all our programs are critical in order to provide a full spectrum of services to children and families. We strive to make sure each child is safe, happy and prepared for life. For some families, this may mean being able to work one-on-one with a trained caseworker, someone who can teach them to set and meet goals which will benefit their children. Some families might simply want to reach out to one of our professional therapists for clinical care. In other situations, our caseworkers search for families who can offer children the loving and supportive homes they deserve.
In all of these cases, community awareness is the most important part of our mission. It’s important we recognize that child abuse can happen in any type of family structure and anywhere. And it’s vital for the community to know what resources are available and how to access these resources to help in the prevention and intervention of child abuse and neglect.
What are some surprising facts about foster children in Florida that people may not expect?
Many people are surprised to learn adoption is a local need. We currently have over 40 children and youth in our community who are looking for permanent, loving families. Last year 190 children in our community became a part of a home to call their own! We serve children of all ages, and we often have siblings who need families who will keep them together. Already this year we’ve matched 15 sibling groups with families! It’s so important for children to maintain these strong relationships.
What are some of the most common misconceptions about adoption?
Many people believe that adopting a child from the child welfare system is expensive, when in fact it’s completely free! Furthermore, when parents adopt a child in foster care, their family has the advantage of on-going financial assistance, as appropriate for their child’s needs.
I also run into a lot of questions about teens in foster care. When I mention adopting an older teen, many families ask, “What can I do for an older child?” or “What role will I play in his life?” Teens, too, want families of their own and homes where they can grow into successful adults. They’re at a very critical stage where they need a parent to guide them through the transition into adulthood. Teens want someone they can trust to teach them how to open their first bank account, apply for college and get their first job. It’s a very scary time when they’ll want to know that someone loves them and is looking out for them.
How is parenting an adopted child different and/or the same as parenting one of your natural born children?
All children deserve love and structure. You have to build a trusting relationship, and that takes consistency, love and support. The only difference when adopting a child is that you start building a relationship later in life. To be a perfect adoptive parent, you don’t have to be perfect. You have to be reliable, understanding and committed to your child’s happiness – and that’s universal!
What does the process look like – from the moment a family decides to adopt, to the time that child graduates from high school?
Most families start the adoption process by attending an adoption orientation where we address questions about the process. Our orientations are always “no strings attached,” so there’s no pressure to make an immediate decision. We want potential families to be well informed before they commit to adoption. If parents decide to move forward, they’ll join a nine week parenting course called Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education (PRIDE). Within three months of completing the PRIDE course, an adoption specialist will visit the family’s home and provide them with a home study so that they can share information about their life with children seeking adoption. Parents formally show their dedication to a child during the adoption finalization hearing, at which point they’re officially a family! After that, families brought together through adoption enjoy the same “growing-up” challenges as all families.
Are some motives better than other when it comes to adoption?
Families consider adoption for many reasons. In the end, it’s a parent’s relationship with his or her child that matters. Can you see yourself thinking about your child all the time? Would seeing your child succeed make you happy? Are you ready to adjust your lifestyle in order to help your child feel included? If so, then you’re adopting for the right reasons.
Can you tell us a success story about a child who was profoundly affected by their adoptive parents?
Many of our parents make a huge impact on their children’s lives. We’ve had youth intern as Senate pages, and we’ve had children grow up and choose to become advocates for our organization.
Recently, Sara, a young teenager, moved in with her forever family. For a long time, she didn’t want to be adopted, or even meet her future parents. She was scared and anxious, especially since they were strangers. She worried that they wouldn’t like her or that she would eventually have to move again. Her caseworker worked very hard to make Sara feel prepared for her first visit. They talked together beforehand and the caseworker stayed with Sara the whole time, and the visit went well! Sara and her future family continued to meet and get to know each other. Now Sara has a big family with four brothers and a very supportive mom and dad. The day she moved in, she called her caseworker to tell her that she’s opening her own front door with her own key! She couldn’t imagine not being part of her family.
What are some ways that the community can lend support?
Our organization is extremely blessed by our giving community. Our volunteers and advocates have stepped up to support the efforts of our staff, as we’ve worked to change the lived of more and more children. Our Family Visitation Centers and Adoption Services are always seeking interns and volunteers who can make a weekly commitment. Our thrift shop, Family Treasures, accepts volunteers of all ages. Community members can also donate nearly anything to our shop, from clothes to living room sets. We even pick up furniture donations.
We are always seeking donations of high need items such as diapers, formula, and new car seats. Some of our youngest advocates have started successful back-to-school fundraisers and holiday donation drives at their schools to raise awareness and give back to children in our community.
Businesses can even help us spread the word about adoption by hosting our Adoption Heart Gallery of waiting children or including a short blurb on their websites about how to become more involved.
To find out more about the Children’s Home Society and how you and your family can get involved, visit chsfl.org.