Children in foster care need more advocates in Jacksonville, beyond

Four-year-old James Edward Reese Jr. died last spring at Wolfson Childrens Hospital. With injuries including fractures to his ribs, an arm, collar, skull, and vertebrae, the words “child abuse” sound like an understatement.

Sadly he was in foster care in the custody of an extended family member. Like so many other children, the system failed to keep this child safe. Reese Jr. didn’t live long enough to even go to kindergarten.

He’s the reason Tavon and Davon Jacobs walked about 100 miles from Statesboro, Georgia to bring attention to the need to do a better job of protecting children in the foster care system. May was National Foster Care Awareness Month, and the 26-year-old Jacobs twin brothers ended their walk on Memorial Day weekend at Wolfson, because that’s where Reese died.

Death at state-appointed home:James Reese Jr. “abused and murdered,” according to 4-year-old Jacksonville boy’s mother

“We just wanted to do our part to draw attention to what’s happening in the foster care system,” said Davon, who along with his brother, was put in the foster care system when they were 2.

“We want people to know what kids are going through. There’s not enough media coverage about it and we just want to play a role in opening up people’s eyes.”

Davon said too often the only time people even think about children in foster care, is when there is an extreme abuse situation that makes local news like Reese’s story. And even then only people in that community hear about it, not the entire country.

He’s right. It’s the reason a few reporters at USA Today worked on an investigative piece in 2020 titled: “Florida took thousands of kids from families, then failed to keep them safe.”

Flooded by foster kids:Florida took thousands of kids from families, then failed to keep them safe.

The news report focused on Florida because, in 2017, Florida lawmakers rewrote rules to make it easier to seize children from their parents. The goal was to get investigators to change their thinking. Instead of working to keep families together, the new goal was to protect kids. Unfortunately, in a matter of months, the foster care system found itself drowning in hundreds of new cases. By 2017, the state needed space for 6,000 additional foster children.

And when caseloads rose, child welfare workers skipped home visits and parent training sessions because they could not keep up with required safety checks. The investigation showed that they fabricated logs to make it appear as if the sessions took place. And when caseworkers lied and omitted information from their reports, children got hurt, according to lawsuits and the Department of Children and Families inspector general reports.

Jenn Petion, president and CEO of Family Support Services of North Florida said she believes the report included a misunderstanding of the law. “The goal was not to make it easier to remove kids, but to have a less-incident focused process of investigating concerns,” she said, noting that historically investigators only looked into an incident instead of taking a more holistic response and understanding greater dynamics in a home. In Reese Jr.’s case, for instance, it was reported that his mother lost her children to the foster care system because she was in an abusive relationship.

“We don’t have the opportunities to share all of the thousands of positive success stories that we have for every one tragedy that we tried to prevent but were unable to do so,” Petion said.

Petion, who has five children, including two adopted children, said that while the Florida child welfare system is not where it should be, it’s an entirely different and better system than it was 20 years ago. She’s also confident that a lot more positive changes will take place if a $100 million investment into the system passes. “It’s part of the budget in front of the governor right now. It would mean landmark funding for child welfare agencies in Florida,” she said.

Despite the many strengths and challenges of the foster care system, one thing is certain, it’s a complex system. It’s also one that needs more input from people like Tavon and Davon Jacobs who were part of the foster care system. Petion agrees, and says that her agency includes advisory board members who were once children in the foster care system.

The bottom line is some agencies involved in foster care are doing better than others overall.

Prospective foster parents work with local community organizations to complete the licensing process. If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent, call 1-83-FosterFL or 1-833-678-3735. That’s where you can get questions answered and get connected with local resources.

Originally Appeared Here