Jessica Patrick always had dreams to foster children in the distant future, but life took an unexpected toll, and the opportunity came sooner than expected.
“I was working in the school system doing therapy and received a call from a [Department of Children and Families] caseworker who needed emergency placement on a student,” Patrick said. “I spoke to my husband the minute I got home. She came to us that very night.”
There is a shortage of both caseworkers and foster families throughout Florida and the main reason seems to point to one thing: finances.
Patrick, 29, is cognizant of the low annual salary case workers make, and she can also speak firsthand about how many foster parents pay for a lot of essentials out of pocket.
“To foster a child you really have to be doing it out of the kindness of your heart,” she said.
Patrick, who has worked with many children who have been neglected, believes the child welfare system is indeed broken. Caseworkers have been leaving to less stressful jobs, causing a crisis on how frequently these children can receive safety visits from the state.
Social workers regularly have a load of 60-70 cases, and are required to drive to each of them. Cases can be spread throughout different counties across Florida, and most caseworkers use their own vehicles to make the trip.
“DCF is reluctant to remove kids due to the lack of foster homes,” Patrick said. “It is a vicious cycle and I wouldn’t even know where to begin fixing it.”
Despite the roadblocks, Patrick strives to give these children a sense of normalcy during the time spent under her care. And it’s not easy. Patrick vividly remembers, for instance, that her foster child cried and screamed in fear during her first few nights in the new home, remembering how unsafe her previous home was.
“Fostering is a wave of emotions,” she said. “It’s difficult. There will be happy tears and sad tears.”
Patrick finds solace in knowing she provided them with a safe place during one of the most difficult moments of their life.
“Although she was a transitional placement, I made memories with her,” she said. “She had never been to the river or jumped on a trampoline. We went out for ice cream all the time.”
To become a foster parent, one must go through an application process where an extensive background check is performed on every adult in the home. There is also a walk-through to make sure there are no access to weapons or medication in the home. If you are interested in fostering a child please visit Florida Department of Children and Families for more information.