A Day in the Life of a Counselor

Jancita (left) and Sandra, (right) LSF counselors.

Leviticus 19:34

You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

By Terri Durdaller, Vice President of Communications


Jancita and Sandra were complete strangers before they started working together at LSF Case Management Organization in Fort Myers. They have the difficult role of licensing new foster parents and helping find placement for kids coming into care.

I stopped by their office, in my usual fun loving spirt, with the agenda of taping a video about LSF. I caught a quick conversation between Jancita and Sandra that summed up a day in the life of a counselor.

Sandra: We have two kids to place today and they have tough behavior issues. It’s Friday and there are only three of us on call today. You know Fridays are crazy.

Jacinta: I hear you, but I was here this morning at 6 am and I have to leave at 3 pm to pick up Jace from school. (Jace is a 7-year-old boy who was moved away from everything he knew, but it was best for him.)

Sandra: Well I was here until 9:30 pm last night after hours of looking for a foster home that would take Michael. (Michael is a 17-year-old who tested positive for marijuana after a check-in with his parole officer. The foster parents said, “don’t bring him back” after they learned the test results.)

Jacinta: We will make it work, girl. We always do.

After witnessing this exchange, I couldn’t help but see that these two are difference makers because their hearts are emotionally connected to the job they perform. They smiled at each other during the conversation. I heard respect in their voice as they spoke to one another. It was a quick but powerful glimpse into their important work of keeping kids safe.

Jancita and Sandra were once strangers. The families they meet are strangers. But the love they have for those working in and served by the child welfare system forever bonds them.

I share this story today because I want you ladies to know that I see you. We see you as an organization. You are juggling caseloads. Your work goes home with you. You are up late at night. Bad images of what you see never leave you.  But you don’t walk away. You stay and fight through the chaos for another day, for another child…a stranger who you love.

We admire you and are grateful for you.

Thank you.

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LSF Grace Place Opens Its Doors in Palm Beach County

Lutheran Services Florida recently opened our doors to LSF Grace Place, a collective of seven group homes in Palm Beach County caring for children who face some of the greatest challenges in child welfare.

LSF was able to leverage our history of delivering strong clinical services through our CINS/FINS program in order to provide enhanced behavioral services to teens residing at Grace Place.  It’s our hope that over time we will turn this collection into a new model that meets all Quality Residential Treatment standards.  As such, the homes have a no eject/reject policy, which fits well with our philosophy that we never give up on any child.

“I have personally visited the group homes multiple times and met two young ladies who have impressed me with their maturity and drive. Both are enrolling in college this upcoming year, said Mike Carroll, EVP of Programs. “Statistics tell us that less than two percent of foster children go to college, so kudos to these young women.  This is one of the ways we hope to define success at Grace Place!”

We are partnering with Childnet, the primary funder of services at Grace Place, and working closely with Children’s Home Society, the agency that provides case management services to these youth through the child welfare system.

“We believe this model could be fully integrated and become a model for all community partners,” Carroll said.

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On this Parent’s Day

Parent’s Day is celebrated on the 4th Sunday of July. It’s a day that commemorates parenthood and appreciates all parents including mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers, stepmothers and stepfathers, adoptive parents and foster mothers and fathers, as well as their contribution to society.

On this special day, we want to celebrate those who chose to open their hearts to some of the most vulnerable children within our communities– foster parents.

Hattie Parsons, LSF Foster Parent.

“Parent’s Day as a foster parent to me means being an active mother in their lives.  I treat every child as my own,” said Hattie Parson, an LSF foster parent. “I work very well with birth parents, even taking them on vacation with me.  They know that I have an open-door policy. We all have a goal of reunification.”

Lutheran Services Florida served 4,600 children in foster care in 2018 and foster parents provided love, comfort, guidance and reassurance to foster children as they worked with the families to be reunited.

Dyecol and Taneasha Walker, LSF foster parents, shared a little more of their experience as foster parents.

What does Parent’s Day mean to you as a foster parent?

Parent’s Day is a special day on the calendar of foster parents because it is a grand occasion where parents are venerated and appreciated for their hard work, love and dedication that they have meted out to children that have come under their care.

How is it working with birth parents?

For the most part we have had a harmonious relationship with the biological parents. There is always an open line of communication to ensure that all the parties involved are able to maintain an optimal level of civility, thus reducing the shock on the child.

Dyecol and Taneasha Walker, LSF Foster Parents.

What would you say to encourage others to become foster parents?

Children are our future and sometimes dysfunctionalities threaten the potential spark that these children are capable of. Hence, every potential foster parent has a critical role in ensuring the best outcome of each child. It is gratifying knowing that for a period of time you are able to offer care and to positively impact the life of a child.

Becoming a foster parent


Fill out the information below and an LSF representative will be in touch with you with more information.

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Thank you, Head Start dads!

Father engagement is a vital and integrated aspect of parent, family, and community engagement work. LSF Head Start and Early Start staff engage fathers as advocates, lifelong educators, and first teachers of their children. Male family members and father figures serve key roles in the healthy development of their children and families and have much to add to their Head Start communities.

This Father’s Day we celebrate our Rock Star fathers throughout our LSF Head Start and Early Head Start programs!

Mr. nicolas

LSF PEPPI Head Start

Mr. Billy

A New Beginning Child Care 2 LCC

Duval Early Head Start Childcare Partnership:  A New Beginning Child Care 2 LLC spotlights “Mr. Billy Little”

“Mr. Billy” is a dedicated father who shows a high level of concern regarding his child’s education. We love having his son at A New Beginning Child Care 2 LCC! Mr. Billy looks for activities to assist his son with learning at home and does not depend solely on the teachers for his child’s education. Initially apprehensive, Mr. Billy made a 360 degree turn around with the Director of the Child Care Center as he came to trust that his child was in a safe place that offers the kind of quality care that every parent should expect.  Mr. Billy can be spotted participating at the parent meetings and helping out around the center.

Mr. Billy volunteers and gets into the trenches to help keep the center clean.  Mr. Billy is an inspiration to the child care team and a dependable father.  He is a shining example for the other fathers.

Happy Father’s Day Mr. Billy! We appreciate you.

-Submitted by Bridgette Carter, Owner/Director for A New Beginning Child Care 2 LCC

Mr. Gregory

Superior Christian Academy


Mr. Gregory is a phenomenal dad and I want to recognize him on Father’s Day!  He supports his daughter’s early learning experience at 100 percent.  He loves to stick around in the classroom to see the teacher’s interactions with his daughter and the children.

On his off day, he will pick his daughter up early to spend extra quality time with her. He is always asking her about the day and if there is anything she needs. He also offers help for other children who may not be able to afford at home supplies to enrich at home learning.

This dad wants to be informed on different strategies and ways to help him work with his daughter at home. We appreciate Mr. Gregory’s honesty and his hard work to provide a safe and caring place for his daughter.

He is LSF Duval Early Head Start’s champion dad!

-Submitted by Linda Reid, Owner/Director for Superior Christian Academy

Anel Nicolas is a father of two young children and recently took on the responsibility of adopting his wife’s niece. Anel is a hard-working father who generously helps others. Anel has been involved with our Head Start program for two years. Anel started out by attending every training/parent meeting that was offered to parents. Each time we had a parent meeting he would translate to the Creole parents and made sure they had a ride to the meetings.

Anel not only help the parents at PEPPI but throughout the Glades community. He was a part of our “Bikes Give-away” and he also passes out food to homeless in the community. He stated that his goal is for everyone in PEPPI and the Glades Community to come together and make a better future for our kids.

Mr. Nicolas is one the most dependable parents we have in our program. What more can I say about Anel Nicolas besides Happy Father’s Day and we are happy to have him as part of our program!

-Submitted by Shirley Coney, Director of LSF PEPPI Head Start


is a fatherhood involvement initiative program for the male staff, fathers or male figure that have a positive impact within our Head Start families.

The purpose of this initiative is to increase parent/guardian involvement in the Head Start program through center and local program activities that encourages positive child development. This initiative will also help the families by providing resources to participants and their families while helping them understand the importance of father involvement in a child’s life especially in the early development stages.

If you desire to join one of our parent engagement programs, please contact the main LSF Head Start office in your county or contact your Family and Community Engagement Specialists.

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LSF Health Systems Developing a New Weapon to Combat Florida’s Opioid Epidemic

A powerful new weapon is emerging in the fight against the opioid epidemic in Florida.

It’s not a new overdose antidote, treatment therapy or zero tolerance law. It’s people who have experienced drug addiction or mental illness now trained and certified to help others recover, and it’s a game-changing movement for those on the frontlines of this deadly battle, said Dr. Christine Cauffield, CEO of LSF Health Systems, one of the state’s largest networks of behavioral healthcare providers.

“The early success we’ve seen in recent pilot programs has convinced us that certified peer recovery specialists could finally give us the upper hand against this devastating epidemic,” Cauffield said.

LSFHS has been working with Jacksonville-based Gateway Community Services and Ascension St. Vincent’s on Project Save Lives – a pilot program using certified peer recovery specialists as part of integrated emergency room teams. The tremendous success of the pilot has led to plans for expansion into other hospitals in Northeast and North Central Florida.

The Florida Legislature this month passed legislation that could greatly expand the use of certified peer recovery specialists in part by eliminating background screening barriers for peer specialist needed in hospitals and treatment centers. The bill, which is awaiting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature, also authorizes the Florida Department of Children and Families to manage the credentialing and certification processes for peer recovery specialists.

These changes are crucial, said Danielle Rice, a certified peer recovery specialist who completed LSF Health Systems’ Certified Recovery Peer Specialist (CRPS) training program last June and now works with individuals recovering from addiction.

“If certified peer recovery specialists, clinicians, hospitals, jails, substance abuse professionals and mental health facilities all learn to work as a system, the sky is the limit for recovery programs,” Rice said. “It’s a powerhouse for mental wellness, to have support from all angles, that will raise individuals’ chances for recovery to remarkable levels.”

The certified peer recovery specialist concept dates back to the 1960s anti-psychiatry movement in the mental health field. It’s widespread use in substance abuse treatment began in the mid 2000s when the federal government called for a transformation of the existing system.

Despite extensive clinical research showing peer support specialists provide a path to lower relapse rates, decreased psychotic symptoms and reduced hospitalization rates, earlier pushes for peer recovery specialists in states like Florida faded as those trained in the field could not find employment.

“There were thousands of certified peer recovery specialists in 2007, but by 2011 the number had dropped to a couple hundred,” said Rice who first became a certified peer recovery specialist in 2008. “The problem was that you couldn’t get work if you had a felony on your record, no matter how long ago that offense was.”

Unsurprisingly, there were few people with real-life drug addiction experience who had no felony convictions. That catch-22, which doomed past peer specialist movements, has begun to change. And Stevenson’s pending legislation would be a huge step forward for certified peer recovery specialists in Florida, Cauffield said.

Another roadblock that is changing relates to the inconsistent credentialing for peer recovery specialists from state to state. A 2016 national study by the University of Texas found that 41 states have programs to certify peer recovery specialists. However, each state’s criteria vary.

To become certified in Florida requires a high school diploma, attestation of lived experience, 40 hours of training, 500 hours of supervised work or volunteer experience providing peer-to-peer recovery support services, and letters of recommendation — as well as passing the Florida Certified Recovery Peer Specialist Exam. A recent review from the federal Government Accountability Office highlights that as the demand for peer recovery specialists grows there is a need for “increased attention to standardizing the competencies of peer specialists through certification.”

To help meet this growing need, LSF won a 2016 grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to develop a CPRS training program at Jacksonville University. The first class of 52 certified peer recovery specialists graduated last year. The course, now in its second year, provides participants with the state-required training, testing and 500 hours of experience providing peer support services. The grant provides funding to train up to 70 peer specialists a year for the next three years, which will greatly address the dearth of peer specialist in Florida.

Through the Project Save Lives pilot program, LSF’s state-certified peer recovery specialists work alongside emergency room doctors and nurses and then serve as advocates for patients as they progress through treatment programs. When overdose patients arrive in ERs, once they are stabilized, they meet with a certified peer recovery specialist who advises them through their withdrawal and recovery if they accept the assistance. The results have been impressive, said Christi Smith, MSN, RN, nurse manager of the emergency department at Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside

“Our emergency room at Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside was the first in the area to use certified peer recovery specialists as part of Project Save Lives,” Smith said. “They provide our nurses and physicians with a valuable new service that helps us provide compassionate, personalized care to patients who have overdosed and need treatment.”

Rice, who now teaches for LSF Health Systems’ CPRS program, said she knows better than most the value that certified peer recovery specialists offer in initial consultations and ongoing therapy for drug addicts and overdose patients.

“I know that in my case, I had no respect for the medical professionals because of my history with psychologists,” Rice said. “They were giving me homework to do, but they didn’t understand what I was going through. I’d be Baker Acted, I’d lie, and they’d send me home. Then I’d just lose it all over again.”

The conversations between addicts and certified peer recovery specialists are very different, Rice said. “They need someone who really knows what they are going through, who can relate and advocate for them,” she said. “They need someone they can call 24/7 when they can’t get in touch with a doctor or psychiatrist. That’s what the certified peer recovery specialist provides – not a friend, but an advocate.”

LSF believes its CPRS program is ready to expand to more hospitals and areas of the state in order to meet a tremendous growing demand in the mental health and substance abuse areas, Cauffield said. The training curriculum LSF developed has been approved by Florida’s Certification Board. The pilot project is expanding to Baptist, UF Shands and Flagler hospitals. And the certification program is coming to Volusia and Orange counties.

This expansion is happening thanks in large part to recent changes in attitudes among Florida’s medical and mental healthcare professions. In 2008, some physicians and psychiatrists saw peer recovery specialists as a threat or a potential interference, Rice said. That view is evolving.

“Times are starting to change, but we’re still not 100 percent understood,” she said. “A lot of clinicians still feel threatened, but an increasing number of them are now opening the door to letting peer specialists come in and do our jobs.”

That trend is why LSF Health Systems and its parent organization, Lutheran Services Florida, see the CPRS as a true game-changer in Florida’s fight against the opioid epidemic, said Sam Sipes, CEO of Lutheran Services Florida.

“We have an important destination, and we can only get there by creating innovations driven from our organization’s mission, vision and values,” Sipes said. “Expanding this program will reach more clients and help answer their prayers. That’s why it’s important.”

LSF Health Systems is a division of Lutheran Services Florida, a statewide non-profit organization transforming lives by ensuring safe children, strong families and vibrant communities since 1982. Read more about both organizations at www.lsfnet.org.

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Pinellas Head Start Job Fair | February 21, 2019

Dunedin, FL –Lutheran Services Florida Pinellas Head Start/ Early Head Start will be hosting a job fair at United Methodist Church for positions to help promote school readiness. This job fair will include numerous full-time positions with many benefits.

Pinellas Head Start/Early Head Start provides high-quality educational services to children who lack these resources. The benefits to Head Start are education which is aligned with the Head Start Performance Standards, health, and family engagement. These factors combined will enrich children’s learning and prepare them for higher education.

LSF Pinellas Head Start has many positions available. These positions range from teacher to program nurse. In addition, LSF Head Start offers numerous benefits for their employees. Some include bi-weekly pay with 12 paid holidays, tuition reimbursement, competitive health package, and more! Make sure to come down to the job fair on February 21st to help promote school readiness for children. Learn more and apply online at: www.LSFnet.org/careers or call (727) 547-5979

WHO: Pinellas Head Start/Early Head Start

WHAT: Job fair with positions available ranging from teacher, program aid, specialist, etc.

WHEN: Thursday, February 21st, 2019 4 pm to 7 pm.

WHERE: United Methodist Church  

421 Main Street Dunedin, FL 34698


About  LSF Pinellas Head Start:

Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) Pinellas Head Start and Early Head Start is transforming communities throughout Pinellas County through our growing partnerships with the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County, Juvenile Welfare Board (JWB), and Pinellas County School Board, among others. These partnerships allow us to make high-quality, early educational services available to children and families who otherwise would lack access to these life changing child and family support services.

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Cleaner Classrooms and Rising Scores: With Tighter Oversight, Head Start Shows Gains

As published in the New York Times.

By Jason DeParle

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When federal officials inspected this city’s Head Start program five years ago, they found moldy classrooms, exposed wires, leaking sewage, a sagging roof and trash-strewn playgrounds littered with safety hazards. A teacher had jerked a student so hard she dislocated the girl’s shoulder.

The visitors were so alarmed at the neglect that they began changing diapers themselves. What they did next was even more unusual: They fired the nonprofit running the program, the Urban League, and chose a new one.

Now run by Lutheran Services Florida, Jacksonville’s Head Start program has cleaner classrooms, more teachers with college degrees, a full-time teaching coach and rising scores on the federal government’s main yardstick of classroom quality. Once in the lowest 10 percent nationwide, Jacksonville now has scores that approach the national average.

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It’s never too early to start talking about history

The entire month of February is dedicated to pay tribute to African Americans of many generations that conquered adversity and achieved great things in history. Celebrating this month allows us to learn more about inspiriting African American leaders who have impacted our lives and a culture that continues to shape our nation.   

LSF encourages parents to celebrate Black History Month by bringing emphasis to the influence, power and resilience of the African American community. There are many ways to start sharing this important history with your children; here are some ways to bring Black History Month to your household, school, and community.   


Ways to Celebrate  


  • Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” Activity  
  • Use this worksheet inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King to encourage your children to think about their dreams. 


  • Diversity Hand Wreath  
  • Feeling crafty? Here is a guide for children of all ages to paint their hands and create a beautiful wreath full of diversity.
  • Coloring Pages  
  • Choose from these coloring pages to have kids be creative while learning at the same time!
  • Watch a movie  
  • Black Panther is coming back to the big screen and you can see it for free in honor of Black History Month. Find a theater near you.
  •  Crossword Puzzle  
  • Crossword puzzles are a fantastic way to get older children involved in history.   
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