SARASOTA - A colorful room full of toys may not seem like much. However, to children on the Suncoast in foster care, an inviting and safe place to meet with their families can make all the difference. 1600. That’s the current count for the number of children between Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto Counties in the foster care system who have been abused, neglected or abandoned. At the Safe Children Coalition facilities in Sarasota, a five thousand dollar grant from the Junior League of Sarasota County was used to transform visitation rooms from a sterile to a welcoming space.

“We got new tables and chair and toys and all kind of stuff. They are age specific for our younger children so they can play with their parents in an appropriate manner," said Brena Slater with Safe Children Coalition. Upgrading the surroundings to better compliment a delicate matter such as a child’s developing mind is part of the Florida Center’s Early Childhood Court Program, or ECC. The mental health counseling rooms are another approach ECC is taking to help speed the process of reuniting families.
“They can come see their children more frequently, not just a once a week visit where they can come in day after day," said Slater.
Slater says families who have used the rooms so far have been very impressed and grateful for the changes. The ECC program also helps families focus on a key healing component- mental health.

ND: “Each family that enters into Early childhood court will have an infant mental health clinician assigned. This is a clinician who is an expert in all things early childhood," said Florida Center for Early Childhood C.F.O. Kristie Skoglund.

The boost to the program is a step in the right direction, but Skoglund has hopes for expanding the program in the future.

To learn more, visit The Florida Center.