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Okaloosa County Investigates Ways to Improve Foster Care, Families First

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SHALIMAR – Okaloosa County Commissioners have asked staff members to explore how the county can play a meaningful role in improving local foster care services.

Commissioners voted last month to further discuss the county’s attempt to take over the management of foster families from the Families First network based in Pensacola, instead deciding to explore concrete steps that can be taken to help Families First better. do its job.

Before a vote was taken, foster care advocates and parents across the county came out in support of Families First. Many said the agency has improved its communication with them and has become a strong ally.

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“We’re hoping the county will join this wave of momentum we’re on right now rather than choosing to spend energy laterally to pursue a separate foster care program,” said a woman named Kara (the foster parents did not provide their last names at the meeting for security reasons).

Kara and others have suggested many ways the county could help Families First and other groups working with foster children provide better service to parents. Most included incentives within the public and private sectors to make it easier for foster parents to obtain local treatment or necessities such as child care.

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Walter Sachs, regional director of the Florida Department of Children and Families, said what the county can best do to help foster children is to provide more preventive services to keep children out of the foster system. or, failing that, move them as quickly as possible to reunite with their parents.

“I don’t think you can solve it by being the main advocate. You need involvement, partnership, advocacy. You have to look at the problem,” he said.

Sachs said the “best role” the county could play in bringing about meaningful change would be “to actually fund preventative services where there is a desert today.”

“If you look where you don’t have children’s mental health services and ask why a family has to drive from Okaloosa to Navarre for therapy and ask ‘can the county play a role in solving this problem? “

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At their April meeting, the Commissioners voted 4-1 to spend up to $ 25,000 to study the idea of ​​bringing foster care internally. County staff were also tasked with examining the concept of placing the county in an ‘advocacy role’ through which it would offer advice to administrators of the foster care system without taking on the duty of running what amounts to a business. .

Deputy County Administrator Craig Coffey described the staff study on the issue of foster care. Families First will learn in November whether DCF will renew an existing contract, Sachs said.

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