New homes will allow foster siblings to stay together


Florida Baptist ChildrenŐs Homes volunteers help prepare the grounds of two new foster homes set to open in the next few weeks. The attached homes each will house five children and their foster parents.

Photo courtesy of Kelli Munn
Published: Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 5:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 5:29 p.m.

The Florida Baptist Children's Homes will hold an open house Saturday for two new Gainesville homes that will help keep siblings in foster care together.

Facts

IF YOU GO

What: Open house for the Cellon-Thomas campus of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: 17224 State Road 121, a few miles north of Highway Patrol Station
Tickets: Free and open to the public
For information: focncf.org

One of the two 3,500-square-foot homes, which can house up to five children, is expected to open in November, said Kelli Munn, a board member of Friends of Children of North Central Florida, the nonprofit organization responsible for raising the more than $3 million for a maintenance endowment and building fund.

The homes are fully furnished, thanks to a recent donation drive.

The Cellon-Thomas campus, named after donor families, will feature a second home that will house another five children and will open once foster parents are in place, she said.

Florida Baptist Children's Homes is a faith-based nonprofit organization that provides residential care, ministry and adoption services to neglected, abandoned or abused children. The organization has six residential care campuses in the state.

Katy Martin, the Florida Baptist Children's Homes spokesperson, said the attached homes in Gainesville, which cost $790,000 to build, will fill a much-needed demand in foster care.

"Larger sibling groups can be placed together instead of being separated and placed in several different foster homes," Martin said in an email statement.

Children assigned to foster homes are in the child welfare system because they have been removed from their caretakers due to abuse and/or neglect. Foster care children are cared for until they are adopted or are reunited with parents or a family member, depending on the case, Munn said.

"The goal is always to get them back to their home with their parents," she said.

The new homes will be added to a call list used by state agencies responsible for placing children in foster care. Children living there could potentially come from anywhere in the state, even though agencies try to place children near their areas of residence, said Martin.

"Our license for this new home does not limit us to serving only children from the Gainesville area," Martin said.

Foster parents are required to live in the same house and be available to the child at all times. But because they are volunteers, they are neither employed by Florida Baptist Children's Homes nor paid, Martin said.

At least one of the parents must be employed and capable of paying monthly bills and expenses such as utilities and basic necessities for the children. The volunteer foster parents don't pay rent, and many supplies are provided them through donations and community support.

"They do receive a stipend from the state to help partially reimburse them and offset the costs of caring for the foster children in their home," Martin said.

The reimbursement, however, does not cover the entire cost of caring for the child.

The state pays foster parents a monthly stipend of about $440 depending on the county the child comes from and his or her age, said Melissa Poole, the North Florida area administrator for Florida Baptist Children's Homes.

The organization plans to open a second two-home unit that will house another 10 children with their respective foster parents. Fundraising for the estimated $700,000 for that project is under way through the Friends of Children website, focncf.org, Munn said.

Saturday's open house for the Cellon-Thomas campus at 17224 SR 121, a few miles north of the Highway Patrol Station, is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and includes tours.

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