Crist helps to promote Explore Adoption Day during area visit
Gov. Charlie Crist, Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon and Chief Child Advocate Jim Kallinger visited Treeline Elementary in Fort Myers Wednesday afternoon to promote Explore Adoption Day.
Officials spent the day attending ceremonies across the state. At Treeline they held a round table discussion with local families and children, who discussed the adoption process.
“Florida is setting some amazing records in terms of adoption,” Crist said. “When I heard about the numbers here in Southwest Florida, it blew me away.”
Florida families adopted a record 3,674 children in 2008, only to exceed that amount in 2009 with 3,776 adoptions.
The Children’s Network of Southwest Florida has completed 488 adoptions in Southwest Florida, said Chief Executive Officer Nadareh Salim, who was also present Wednesday.
“The number of kids in foster care is going down and adoptions are up,” she said, asking families throughout the state to consider adoption. “There is a child out there with your name on it.”
The network currently has 166 children up for adoption.
“These are challenging economic times and for people to bring in more love is a blessing,” Crist said. “It’s not as difficult or expensive as you may believe it to be.”
Crist and other state officials heard from families who have undergone the adoption process.
Chelsea Gentry, 13, was one of the adopted children who addressed the panel. She said her adoption will be official in three months.
“I’ve been in foster care for five years. I’ve been to a lot of places — only been in one house,” she said. “I got pretty lucky.”
Chelsea said she entered the state system at the age of 8 and always yearned for a family.
“I’m looking forward to it. I want to be a part of a family,” she said.
According to Linda Herrera, a local mother who has adopted two children and is in the process of adopting Chelsea, said the process is not difficult but varies depending on a number of factors.
For example, there are considerations over whether there are siblings — advocates shy away from splitting up brothers and sisters — or if the child has special needs.
Herrera said the process was easier for her because she was a foster parent before adopting.
“We were always foster parents in the system so it was easier,” she said. “They look at the best interests of the child.”
Families considering adoption can benefit from a number of state subsidies. Parents can receive a monthly stipend to assist with caring for the child and are eligible for Medicaid.
Adopted children receive free tuition to a four-year state university.
For more information on the adoption process, visit: www.adoptionflorida.org.