Imagine moving small-5 times in 12 months; starting over in your last year of high school; or having to leave your home, school, and friends to be placed in a residence in another part of the state. Unfortunately, for too many teens in foster care in Northwest Florida these types of situations are a reality.

Jerry moved from state to state, foster home to foster home, group home to group home. Mary missed out on her senior year of high school. Chelsea lived in fear of being separated from her sister and the place she knew to be home. These youths know they missed out on a typical childhood. Due to the lack of stable local homes, these teens lost friends, could not compete in sports or other extracurricular activities, and missed growing up in a loving family home.

For the 166 teens ages 13 to 17 currently placed in the foster care system because of neglect, abuse or the lack of an able parent or guardian, one of the most important things to provide these children is stability. Because of the urgent need for families to help these teens, FamiliesFirst Network is collaborating with the National Resource Center for Diligent Recruitment at AdoptUSKids to create a plan and find appropriate local families willing to open their homes to teens. All it takes is one step forward to make a difference in a child’s life. That’s why FamiliesFirst of Lakeview Center recently launched the “Step Forward” campaign.

"Nearly one in three of our teens in foster care is being moved outside of Northwest Florida because we do not have enough foster parents," said Connie Werner of Lakeview Center.

"We want to make our community aware of the help these children need,” said Werner, Foster Home Development Team Manager. “Currently, nearly one in three teens is placed out of the Northwest Florida area because we don’t have enough foster parents here in our area."

FamiliesFirst has partnered with several Northwest Florida leaders such as Sandy Sansing, owner, Sandy Sansing Auto Dealerships; Mayor of Pensacola Ashton Haywood; and Judy Bense, Ph.D., president University of West Florida. These community leaders want to give a voice to local foster children and urge members of the community to "Step forward. Be a foster parent."

Watch Jerry, Mary and Chelsea’s stories online at

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More Helping Hands in the Community

Did you know The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption selected FamiliesFirst Network of Lakeview to become a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids agency? The grant program funds a specially trained recruiter to find forever families for children who have been waiting in foster care the longest. Many of these children have special needs. Mary Culbertson was hired as the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter in March. If you are interested in adoption, contact FamiliesFirst Network at 850.426.9565.

Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption