Wesley House Family Services is responsible for helping children — newborns to teens — in the Florida Keys get a good start in life so they can reach their full potential. Each case is different, said a Wesley House representative.
“Some families are on the edge of poverty,” said Communications Director Jeremy Wilkerson, “some children are abused, neglected and in need of service for financial reasons.”
Currently the organization serves 210 kids in Monroe County. They are brought to the attention of the agency by neighbors, family members, schoolteachers and the state Department of Children and Families. A child might be going to school dirty or complaining of hunger and the organization steps in with the Healthy Families program, a strategy for struggling households.
“Sometimes parents do not understand child development. A parent may discipline a one-and-a-half-year-old for not using the potty, but that’s an age-appropriate skill that the child hasn’t learned,” said case manager Molly McAteer who oversees the Healthy Families program. “Sometimes abuse can been learned from the child’s parent’s mother and father and our job is to break the cycle.”
Educating families is the first step to assure the children have a bright future and develop to the best of their ability. Some families are beyond that step. A small percent of Wesley House clients are children who have to be removed from their homes and do not have a relative to care for them. These children need a foster home, or giving family willing to take them in, to care for them and show compassion.
“We are in desperate need of foster parents, especially in the Marathon area,” said Wesley House CEO Beth Barrett. “Licensed foster parents are these kids’ heroes. They give them so much more than a place to stay.”
Out of the 210 kids the organization serves, 40 of them are in foster care and 16 are in an emergency shelter because they are no foster homes available. The Marathon shelter went from having a case manager working part time to needing three fulltime case managers. Lori Thompson has been a foster parent since 2007, taking in nine children and adopting one. Her daughter’s name is Heaven.
“It is rewarding to help a child in a crisis dealing with the unknown. These children often have no idea what a family is. Reading them bedtime stories and tucking them in at night is life-changing for them. My favorite part is having dinner,” said Thompson.
Thompson remembers thank you cards she has received from children under her care. One close to her heart read, “Thank you so much for taking care of me. I know my mommy should be doing this.” She said the last thing that should be on a child’s mind is whether or not there will be any dinner.
If somebody wants to play a role in a child’s life, but are not ready to make the step of opening up their home, Wesley House encourages them to sign up and be screened for the mentorship program. Taking kids to the movies or hosting a birthday celebration gives foster parents a break and substantially impacts a child’s life. According to Wilkerson, adults often don’t recognize the amount they have to offer a child in this situation.
To learn more about fostering, mentoring or volunteering, call Wesley House at 305-809-5000.
Out of the 210 kids served by Wesley House, 40 of them are in foster care and 16 are in an emergency shelter because they are no foster homes available. Foster homes and mentoring volunteers are especially needed in the Middle Keys. Wesley House’s ultimate goal is to reunite families and help parents regain custody by giving the individuals the tools they need to prosper. In the meantime, children are placed with foster parents who may nurture the children for a few weeks to a few years, depending on the circumstance.