Through all the trials and tribulations of the COVID-19 crisis, one word has reverberated through this community: Together.
Shining moments of good have brought us together to provide support, protection and comfort to those who need it most – our elderly, our young, our immune suppressed, our health care workers and others deemed at greatest risk.
Working 20 years in the nursing home industry taught me the importance of prevention. Prevention is key.
While we focus on the preventive measures taken to protect us all during this public health crisis, we must not forget the importance of preventive measures to protect our children from potentially dangerous family crises – a risk that’s only elevated during this time of social isolation.
My belief in prevention is what’s led me to serve on the board for the Children’s Home Society of Florida (CHS) – an organization working to end the need for foster care as we know it by keeping more families safe, strong and together.
For many families, CHS means the difference between success and survival. With more “boots on the ground” that any other child-serving organization, CHS meets families at the crossroads of their struggles and successes to empower them to overcome challenges before they turn into crises.
As we cautiously begin to re-open our businesses and step into another “new normal,” CHS has sounded an important alarm: while the curve may be flattening, there’s another one coming – and we can’t ignore it. We must continue to work together to flatten the curve of families in crisis.
Families across Florida are experiencing challenges like never before including unemployment, lack of childcare and social support, and disrupted daily routines. As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, more families are standing at the dangerous crossroads that could lead for entry into the child welfare system.
Before COVID-19 hit, 75% of entries into the child welfare system were due to neglect – often fixable family issues like untreated mental health challenges, substance abuse or inadequate access to resources. The stressors triggered by COVID-19 have only exacerbated those challenges … especially for families already on the brink of crisis.
Our community’s children and families need us now more than ever – and we can’t let them down.
We must be the eyes and ears for our kids, the helping hand for struggling parents, the listening ear that can help a family find the support they need.
When we come together for families, we can make an impact – and I believe we can prevent more families from crossing over into crisis.
When we do this, we can prevent entry into the child welfare system for more kids – and we will forever change life trajectories, strengthening Florida’s future.
If we do nothing, we will pay for it – millions upon millions of tax dollars will go toward the care of even more children entering state custody.
There is hope within prevention.
With CHS’ “cradle to career” approach, families can find support at any age and stage – from baby taking their first steps to walking into their first day of their new career as an independent adult. Parenting is hard – and it’s even harder for those who don’t have any type of support. CHS never wants a family to feel alone.
Instead, CHS counselors, parent coaches, mentors and more act as support systems to families – engaging kids, teens and parents to build overcome adversities, build on their strengths and realize their full potential.
And COVID-19 hasn’t changed that one bit.
The results speak for themselves: nearly 100 percent of children whose families complete CHS early childhood programs, such as Healthy Families and Healthy Start, remain safe at home – and never enter foster care.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, helpless, frustrated, lonely or simply need a listening ear, please contact CHS. You do not have to go through this crisis alone. CHS is providing free 24/7 counseling and support at 1-888-733-6303 or chsfl.org/support. This Family Support Warm line is open to everyone – families, adults, teens and kids. No judgement and no commitment – just caring guidance through this tough time.
If you can support those in your community who are struggling, please get involved in any small way you can – a share on social media, a monetary donation or even a phone call to learn more. Together, we will impact the lives of so many.
Gary Michaels is a 15-year member of the Children’s Home Society of Florida Board of Directors and past board chair.