By Anna-Marie Menhenott
TREASURE COAST -- Not long ago, a four-day old infant was taken to a Port St. Lucie fire station and left in the hands of a firefighter.
Under Florida's Safe Haven law, newborns up to seven days old can be left with hospital staff, at a fire station, or at an emergency medical facility with no questions asked. Since 2000, Safe Havens have received more than 200 infants.
"I think a lot of times, new parents aren't aware that there is this service available," said Sabrina Barnes, Executive Director of Children's Home Society of Florida. "In a dire case, when a new parent feels as if he or she absolutely cannot take care of their child, there is a safe place that the baby can be brought to, so any tragedies can be avoided."
Children's Home Society's mission is Embracing Children, Inspiring Lives. They are the foremost agency across the state that deals with the adoption process of babies and toddlers to children aged 17.
"There are two different types of adoption in Florida," said Ms. Barnes. "The first is the adoption process that a family goes through to adopt a newborn baby. This is paid for by the family seeking a baby and is a lengthy process. It can be either a private adoption, meaning all documents are sealed, or an open adoption, where the birth parents continue to have some contact with the child, through the adoptive family. All those decisions are made throughout the adoption process."
With the incredible volume of children who need forever families, the second type of adoption provided through Children's Home Society of Florida is for children who have been placed into their care through the state's foster care system.
"There are many older children who, under one circumstance or another, have been placed in foster care," Ms. Barnes said. "Those children aren't there because their lives have been perfect. They are there because of unfortunate circumstances and they need a lot of extra love. They need families who have patience, experience and who are willing to understand the events that brought the child into foster care."
Children's Home Society of Florida explores every possibility to place each child who enters foster care with a family member or a friend of the family.
"We've had coaches and teachers, even neighbors, who have stepped up and taken in a child who can no longer live with their custodial parents. It's great when a child can stay in a familiar environment, stay in their same school, play on the same football team or have the same group of friends. Keeping those things the same for the child is our goal."
For children who are available for adoption, a family can search the state for a child or sibling group whose needs may best fit their family's strengths.
"That's the great thing about Children's Home Society of Florida," said Ms. Barnes. "The organization is statewide. If there is a child who needs a home and would be a perfect fit for a family in another part of the state, there is every possibility that they can be brought together."
The state provides a monthly subsidy payment, health insurance, and also a State of Florida college waiver for children who have been adopted through the foster care program.
"I don't think families are aware that there are services available to them once they adopt a child," Ms. Barnes said. "There are just so many children who need a loving family. Our goals are to provide that to them."
For more information on fostering, adopting or helping a child through Children's Home Society of Florida, visit www.chsfl.org.