By Christina De Paris
For Hometown News
DAYTONA BEACH - Beach balls and laughing children covered the conference space used for the NEX GEN Teen Conference, which was held last weekend at the Hilton in Daytona Beach.
Over 130 tweens and teens were brought together to mingle and play during the annual NEX GEN conference coordinated by the Florida State Foster/Adoptive Parent Association.
The Florida State Foster/Adoptive Parent Association, or FSFAPA, is a statewide membership group for all foster, adoptive, relative and non-relative caregivers in Florida, and incorporates activities for kids, along with sessions and presentations for adults.
Chris Goncalo of Melbourne brought his two adopted twin boys to the conference and left elated with the outcome of the event.
"The most impactful thing for me was when (my son) came out of class for the first time as a tween, and showed me a necklace he and his friends all had, and said 'we're in the adoption club,'" Mr. Gonvalo said.
He realizes the importance of surrounding his boys with other adoptive children to help them understand they're not the only ones.
"It was really nice for him to identify with these adoptive kids and it kind of normalizes it for him," he said.
His 12-year-old son, Anthony, said he'd like to return to the conference again next year, and plans on keeping in touch with kids he met during the weekend.
"Going to (the NEX GEN) camp was the most fun. We played and laughed," he said. "I'm going think about how I made a lot of friends."
Trudy Petkovich, President of the FSFAPA, feels the NEX GEN Teen Conference is a way for children to branch out and expand their way of thinking. And the presentations for adults help parents better understand children's feelings as an adoptive or foster child.
"What I see (at the conference) is growth in people who care for children, educating them, seeing them come up with ideas to help each other," Mrs. Petkovich said.
More than 300 adults attended the three-day-long conference, which consisted of seminars and speeches covering a range of topics intended to educate and inform foster and adoptive parents on strategies, new laws and other issues that often arise with adoptive children and those in foster care.
"We come to these conferences and get training from all of these experts, but we learn from other parents as well," Mr. Goncalo said.
Mrs. Petkovich, who has three adoptive children herself, explained networking with other parents is fundamental and a major component of the conference.
"Meeting other people and hearing what is going on with them makes you realize either I'm on the right track or I'm not the right track, and that is what's really important to help move you forward," he said. "It's also seeing what they're doing back in their community, and how they're supporting other adoptive and foster parents."
Although the main focus for the FSFAPA is to reunify children with their biological parents, it's important also to ensure foster parents have a positive impact and create a healthy environments for children.
In another aspect, Mrs. Petkovich expresses a goal of the FSFAPA is to raise the level of professionalism of foster parents and help others understand that foster parents are not babysitters, and deserve respect for their contribution to the system.
She explains further that individuals choose to take in children that aren't biologically related to them, care for them, educate and encourage them, and give them a good foundation to help them become good citizens.
The FSFAPA has organized these conferences to help foster and adoptive parents reinforce their importance to foster and adoptive children, and understand the potential impact they could have on individual children, along with society as a whole.
To learn more about the Florida State Foster/Adoptive Parent Association, visit their website at http://www.floridafapa.org/.