Pensacola, Florida
Saturday November 22nd 2014

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Health Talk: FamiliesFirst Network

Health Talk: FamiliesFirst Network Adoption Counselor Cathleen Menda and Associate Adoption Coordinator Peggy Custred

Menda has been working with Families First Network for six years as an adoption counselor. She has worked as an investigator with Department of Children and Families, opened her home to foster children and even adopted one of those children. As a single parent of two—the oldest is biological— Menda understands the trials and tribulations of parenthood.  Custred prepares families to understand what will be expected of them when they choose to adopt or foster a child. She coordinates events at the Heart Gallery, where you can see pictures and bios of children waiting for homes.

IN: What are the requirements to adopt or foster children?
CUSTRED: There is no set age (other than being over 21) or housing requirement. We’re just looking for folks who are flexible and committed. It doesn’t cost anything to adopt through us. You don’t have to pay for the classes (a 30-hour training program and adoptive home study) or the lawyers. Those who have been convicted of a violent crime cannot adopt.

IN: What is one piece of advice you’d like to give to those hoping to adopt?
MENDA: That it’s not a super-quick process. Be patient. We very often tell our parents that the child is in charge. We see how the child is doing and we have wonderful foster parents who help gage how they’re doing, if they’re having behavioral problems or are afraid. I know how hard it is. If I can do it you can, too. Adopting is probably the most important thing I’ve ever done.

IN: What is the demographic of children waiting to be adopted at FamiliesFirst Network?
CUSTRED: Our focus is older children. We have children who are emotionally and/or physically handicapped. There are also siblings waiting for homes. Sometimes it’s hard to find a family with enough room for four or five siblings. Last year we had 173 adoptions. They’re not bad kids, they’re survivors. Adoption is when the healing starts.

IN: Because the children are older, are they more resentful of the fact that they’re up for adoption?
MENDA: Some kids have spent the majority of their life in the foster care system. They’re old enough to understand. When they say they don’t want to be adopted, what they’re really saying is that they don’t want to be rejected.

IN: When a child asks his/her adoptive or foster parent questions, what should they say?
MENDA: It depends on the situation.  The children we deal with have been abused and neglected. With younger children you have to decide what’s appropriate to tell them and what’s not. Don’t talk about biological parents. Children hold their parents on a pedestal. They’ll understand as they get older.

IN: What is your goal for the children you work for at FamiliesFirst Network?
CUSTRED: Once a judge makes the decision to take a child out of their home, according to federal law we have 12 months to make permanent plans for the child. We want them to go home. That’s where they want to be, that’s where they should be. We work very hard with families through counseling, parenting and drug abuse classes.  We usually have 20 or 30 children who don’t have identified families. Their biological parents’ parental rights have been terminated, foster families won’t adopt and they have no relatives. It’s my responsibility to help find a family. We know they are very special families out there. We need to get the word out that there are more kids waiting. Our families are the ones who help our children. When kids get settled, that’s when they heal. That’s the miracle.

FAMILIESFIRST NETWORK
WHERE: 5401 W. Fairfield Dr.
DETAILS: 453-7766 or familiesfirstnetwork.org