According to the Adoption Exchange Association, there are about 14,000 children in foster care in the state of Florida¹. Working with children and families in the foster care system is not always easy, but many working in the field believe it’s one of the most important causes in the United States today. B&C client Jess Sternthal is one of those people.
After graduating from West Virginia University with a bachelor’s degree in Childhood Development & Family Studies in 2004, Jess began working at a residential program for at-risk youth. It was then that she realized that she was destined to work with children and families facing abuse, abandonment or neglect. Jess moved to Florida in 2006 and continued her work in the field, then began working at Eckerd Community Alternatives (ECA) in 2009.
ECA is a program of Eckerd Kids, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit child and family service organizations. ECA is subcontracted through the Florida Department of Children and Families as the lead child welfare and foster care services in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties. They work with the counties’ respective sheriff’s offices when there is a child in danger of abuse, abandonment or neglect.
When a child abuse report is called in, the appropriate agencies, usually the police and representatives from the Department of Children and Families, respond and gather all the data needed to determine if the case moves forward or not. In the event that the child is removed from the home following this investigation, the parents then have twelve months to rectify whatever issue warranted the child being removed from the home. These issues include, but are not limited to, domestic violence, addiction and parenting issues. ECA provides resources that families can use to provide a stable home so their child may be placed back into the home. If the parent(s) cannot display the proper behavioral changes, arrangements are then made to find permanent housing for the child.
As you can imagine, many of these cases are emotionally stressful and difficult for all parties involved. ECA seeks to deliver a sense of normalcy for children who are affected by this process. While ECA receives government funding, it can only go so far. The organization also relies on donations from the public to give children cell phones, prom dresses, sports gear for extracurricular activities, etc. Jess believes that children in foster care still deserve things other children their age get to enjoy. One way ECA raises money is through an upcoming golf tournament, held on Saturday, April 29th, in Palm Harbor, FL. To learn more about this program or to sign up as a participant or sponsor for the upcoming golf tournament, visit www.Eckerd.org/Golf.
For Jess, it is extremely important to give parents and children a second chance to be a family and to provide parents with the tools to be successful mothers and fathers. By working with ECA, she is able to make quality decisions that will lead to the betterment of society as a whole.
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