Home Community Voices How you can help abused and neglected children through FamiliesFirst Network

How you can help abused and neglected children through FamiliesFirst Network

Jeremiah Lawrence

As painful as it is to hear about, the reality is that there are children of all ages in our community who experience abuse, neglect, or sudden shifts in a family’s dynamic that necessitate intervention on behalf of the children.


Sometimes we only read about the most extreme cases of child abuse or neglect, but there is a spectrum of abuse and neglect that requires different levels of intervention and assistance. Sometimes the child must be immediately removed, but there are also well-meaning and loving parents who are ill-equipped for a variety of reasons and everything in between.

There are so many wonderful organizations in the greater Pensacola area that champion the needs of these children. From the Children’s Home Society to the Gulf Coast Kids House to the FamiliesFirst Network, hundreds of tireless workers serve and advocate for children who have experienced neglect and abuse.

In partnership with Kia AutoSport of Pensacola and the Kia Cares in the Community program, Local Pulse highlights the FamiliesFirst Network. The FamiliesFirst Network provides child welfare, foster care, and adoption services in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Walton counties.

This organization collaborates with partners throughout the state, in Northwest Florida’s four-county area, and within our faith-based communities to ensure the safety and well-being of children.

Recently, we sat down with a FamiliesFirst Network case manager to understand how the FamiliesFirst Network provides services to our area’s children.

Local Pulse: What happens when someone suspects a child is being abused or neglected?

FFN Case Manager: Once we receive a report, a child protective investigator is assigned to go out and gather more information. They must meet with the family and determine if the child is safe or unsafe. If the child (children) is safe and the report is unmerited, then the case is closed.

If they are safe, but it is determined the parents or caregivers need more resources, we create a plan to provide that support. In these cases, the child is recommended to the FamiliesFirst Network to receive non-judicial services, like parenting classes. If no extended family can support the child or the parents/caregivers are unwilling to utilize supportive services, then a court intervenes and the case is transferred to the Department of Children and Families. The biological parents are invited to be included in the process. Most of the time, the goal is to support parents and families with the resources they need to be reunited with their children. These children typically want to be with their own families and we work hard to make that happen, if the parents are also working to meet the standards required to parent their children.

Local Pulse: What is the goal of the FamiliesFirst Network?

FFN Case Manager: It is our goal to get children home as soon as possible. If DCF separated parents and children today, they have to have a permanency goal in one year – whether it is reunification, permanent guardianship, parents’ rights termination, and so forth.

We don’t want kids floating in the system for years. Kids need resolution. Parents don’t have to be perfect, but they have to be engaged and willing to work with us and children have to be safe. When we put children back in the home, we provide services for a minimum of six months.

Local Pulse: What are some of the reasons parents are reported?

FFN Case Manager: Drugs are a huge problem in our communities right now. We also have people with mental health issues that prevent them from caring for their children. People are also reported for domestic violence. Sometimes people are unable to provide adequate housing or do not have the financial means to meet the basic needs of a child. There are many reasons people report suspected child abuse or neglect.

Local Pulse: What would you say to someone who suspects child abuse?

FFN Case Manager: Anyone who suspects neglect or abuse, must call and report. Remember, the report will be investigated first. Just because a call is received doesn’t mean a child is immediately taken away from their parent(s). If nothing is found, everyone goes on their way. If a child is being abused or neglected, then your report may facilitate getting the family the help they need to keep their child in the home or work toward reunification. Sometimes parents just need some basic support. People may not always like an intervention, but we do have cases where parents will later express gratitude for the guidance and services they received to better care for their child.

Local Pulse: How can the community better support the work done at FamiliesFirst Network?

FFN Case Manager: We have a visitation room where we reunite families and children for supervised visits. We can always use items for that room, but that can be coordinated with our administration. Case managers never know what age or size of child they will work with or when the calls will come in. Caseworkers currently utilize a support network through churches, the Gulf Coast Kids House, and so forth. But case managers may need things like a car seat or booster to pick a child up, or age-appropriate toys to keep them busy or help them feel safe during transport.

We have items on our Amazon Wish List that can be purchased and delivered directly to us. You can find those items here: FamiliesFirst Network Amazon Wish List

We also accept financial donations here: Support the FamiliesFirst Network

Kia AutoSport of Pensacola is also accepting donations at the dealership located at 6637 Pensacola Boulevard. 


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Dana is an Arkansas native and a seasonal resident of the Gulf Coast since childhood. She was a Pensacola resident for 13 years, before moving to Gulf Breeze. Dana attributes her Mayberry-esque childhood in Warren, Arkansas, as enormously influential in honing her definitely Southern style of storytelling. She earned a degree in Journalism, Advertising/Public Relations from the University of Arkansas (Woo Pig Sooie!). In addition to writing, she loves photography, art, adventures in the great outdoors, and spending time with her three children.