The Sunshine Express Carries
Children in Foster Care Home for the Holidays
By Secretary George Sheldon, Florida Department of Children and Families
You may recall the children’s tale The Polar Express but have you heard about what we like to call The Sunshine Express? Florida is making it a priority to send as many children and youth in foster care as possible home for the holidays.
Since 2007, we have brought kids together with their parents, grandparents, siblings and other relatives so they can celebrate the joy and hope of the holidays, renew family traditions and create memories.
This December, a record 1,501 Florida children and youth in foster care are participating in our "Home for the Holidays" initiative, nearly twice as many as a year ago. Most of these children are going for a visit, but others are going home this month to be reunified with their parents or permanently placed with relatives.
One young person traveling on The Sunshine Express will be 16-year-old Brianna. Brianna’s journey will take her about 1,500 miles from Panama City, where she lives in a group home, to her grandmother in Minnesota. She is excited about the trip. We know she will enjoy seeing her grandma and hope she likes the snow. Indeed, more than 200 of the children on The Sunshine Express are headed out of state.
Treating Florida’s children and youth in foster care like the normal kids they are is what they have told us they want and need in order for them to be happy and feel optimistic about their future. Making holiday cookies, hanging colorful lights around the house and going to the movies with family and friends are a really big deal if you’re a kid.
Achieving "Home for the Holidays" would not happen without a lot of hard work. Beginning in August, busy Santa’s elves otherwise known as judges, magistrates, guardians ad litem, Children’s Legal Services attorneys and case managers at 20 community-based care agencies and additional local partners, plus Department of Children and Families’ Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children staff, start the process. They plan the necessary judicial hearings and travel arrangements.
Judge George Sarduy of Miami-Dade County, where 336 children are heading home for the holidays, shared his thoughts on why this is important: "We are so proud to be part of the effort that allows children in care to be with their families at this special time of the year. For our children to be able to feel the warmth of their own families during the holidays is the best gift we could give as a system."
We can’t thank everyone enough for being our conductors and engineers on The Sunshine Express.
Santa Claus has reindeer, toys and a sleigh, but our state also is making hundreds of children and youth in foster care happy by sending them home for the holidays.