SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Nonprofit Healthy Families Seminole at the Children’s Home Society (CHS) of Florida, which works to keep families together and children out of foster care, has seen a 100% success rate this year.

Terry and Vedrana Conklin and their 15-month-old son, Lincoln, are living proof.

Vedrana lost her job right after COVID started and was worried she might lose Lincoln to foster care.

“I was most worried about his future,” Conklin said. “Can I keep a healthy pregnancy. Will I have the care that I need. I mean it’s tough, it’s tough. You fall pregnant and you’re like I have to make a decision. What decision do you make. To keep this child, how do you keep this family together. How to keep everything together.”

The Conklins accepted assistance from the Children’s Home Society of Florida and now get a visit every month from a “home visitor” who listens and learns what the Conklins need and then fills that need.

Kenna Glover is the program manager for Healthy families Seminole at Children’s Home Society of Florida and is largely credited with the program’s success in Seminole County.

“So we know that through the data that we have seen that children come into child welfare mostly due to neglect, not necessarily abuse,” Glover said. “And neglect can be anything from undiagnosed mental health to not having community resources like a food pantry or the things like that. We’re working on those protective factors. We want them to have a support system within their life, whether that’s family or friends or church that can wrap around them. We want them to feel confident to seek good community resources whether it’s food or housing or getting their children into school.”

Glover said this year, 100% of CHS’s families in Seminole County have been able to stay together and stay out of foster care.

“We’re definitely seeing families within our program that have had some issues with some mental health or different things that they’ve really struggled with and may have ended up in the welfare system that we’ve been able to kind of help put protective factors in place or support systems or programming in place to help them be able to stay together,” Glover said.

CHS reaches out to most families after their first OB appointment when they are screened for any needs or risk factor, like mental health, substance abuse or lack of employment.

If the family chooses to accept assistance, CHS said home visitors work to build a relationship of trust and support, free of charge for the families. Families graduate from CHS when their child turns 5.

“We have other families who may be referred that may be on the verge of going into child welfare, they may not be as open to services or the information we have,” Glover said. “So it’s building that lasting relationship between the home visitor and the family so there’s a sense of trust, that we’re there to help and we’re not there to put them in welfare.”

Vedrana Conklin said CHS is a great support system.

“It really does take a village and they are our village,” Conklin said. “CHS has been helpful in like terms of we do goals, we do goals every three months, 6 months we evaluate our goals. Our family goals.”

CHS is getting results even after families finish their program. Glover said she also has a 100% success rate with families who graduate going on to be self-sufficient, meaning they’ve gotten jobs, training and/or education.

Anyone can reach out to CHS and CHS accepts everyone. An assessment worker will contact the family and arrange a meeting.

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By Erik von Ancken