By Dawn Seay
COCONUT CREEK, FL – SOS Children’s Villages Florida, a foster care community in Broward County. SOS, the largest foster care provider in Broward County serving an average of 70 children on any given day, is celebrating their 25th anniversary. The children ages two to 18 years, all have a history of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. SOS has served over 600 children over the past 25 years since opening in 1993, and provides the unique feature of keeping siblings together once they are placed in foster care. The 13 family-style homes around a cul-de-sac in Coconut Creek are each staffed by a full time live-in house parent and SOS offers an array of support services and enrichment opportunities, allowing the children to have a special childhood where they can heal and grow into productive adults.
May is National Foster Care Month and SOS Children’s Villages Florida is at the forefront of this movement. It is a time to recognize how we can each play a part in enhancing the lives and focus on increasing the visibility of the needs of children and youth in foster care. There is a critical need for proactive involvement by individuals, agencies, and organizations to ensure continued support for children and families throughout the year.
With over 440,000 children nationally in the foster care system at any given time, and a new child placed into care every 2 minutes, the need for support services, essential items, and foster parents is high. Foster children have an uphill battle with startling statistics to over-come and need the support of our communities. National Foster Care Month calls attention to these children as we work towards solutions to improve their lives.
* 250,000 children enter foster care each year. This number is approximately the same as the combined populations of the cities of Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale.
* Only 50% of youth in foster care graduate high school
* 47% of children who grew up in foster care are unemployed at age 26
* Foster children suffer PTSD at more than twice the rate of US war veterans
* One in five foster children experiences homelessness within one year of aging out of care
* At ages 17 & 18, one-third of young women in foster care are pregnant or parenting
* More than 70% of inmates incarcerated were at one point in the foster care system. The Florida Department of Corrections notes the annual cost to house an inmate is $19,506.
* Stipends don’t cover the essentials of a growing child
SOS CHILDREN’S VILLAGES FLORIDA DEFIES THE ODDS
The annual operating bud-get for the Village is $3.8 million, of which approximately one half comes from the State of Florida. The remainder is raised through foundation grants, major gifts, individual giving, and special events. SOS Executive Director Jillian Smath notes, “the money we raise is critical towards providing for the needs of our children. When a child or group of siblings comes to us, they have basically the clothes on their backs and maybe a few personal items. When a child arrives at SOS, this is when the healing begins. We provide tutoring, therapy, and essential life skills…we give children the life every child deserves. We rely on the support and generosity of our community.”
*100% of SOS high school students have graduated for the past ten years in a row.
* 95% of SOS alumni are employed and/or enrolled in college.
* SOS Children receive bi-weekly tutoring in reading and math.
* The annual cost of raising a child at SOS is
* SOS Children’s Village Florida addresses the issues of homelessness and other negative post foster care experiences through support of the “Next Steps” program which is available to young adults who have aged out of foster care at 18
* Several SOS alumni have received bachelors, master’s degrees, and law degrees; or skilled trade certifications. Many have assumed leadership roles in the South Florida community where they serve as advocates for children in foster care.
A notable program at SOS which addresses the critical needs of young adults exiting foster care is “Next Steps”. This is designed to provide critical support to children once they turn 18 and age out of foster care. The primary goal is to support young adults as they make the transition to independence. Through the Next Steps program, on-going support is provided in areas including counseling, financial management, education, employment, affordable housing, emergency assistance, and advocacy. The pro-gram was expanded in January 2017, through a grant from the Jim Moran Foundation to include Non-SOS Clients.