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Palmetto foster home offers a Christmas respite for abused and neglected children

PALMETTO

Christmas memories differ markedly for Annette Dunlap and Abby Krause.

They were not pleasant for Dunlap, growing up in Green Pond, S.C.

“I was raised between the ages of 5 to 10 by a stepmother who wasn’t friendly to kids,” the 53-year-old recalls. “Things weren’t too cool.”

They were just the opposite for Krause in Minneapolis, Minn.

“Being around family. Snow. Presents. Food. A tree with lights,” the 25-year-old says. “Christmas was my favorite time of year.”

It still is.

For both of them now.

Which is important to what they do.

Dunlap is a therapeutic foster parent who works in conjunction with Krause, a licensing coordinator with Camelot Community Care Inc. It’s an agency that offers in-home counseling and psychiatric services to abused and neglected children and places them in therapeutic foster homes like Dunlap’s.

She and husband Alex have a spacious four-bedroom home on a tree-lined five acres west of Canal Road, an ideal setting for the two 13-year-olds boys they’re fostering.

“They have room to play and you don’t have to worry about them playing in the street,” Dunlap said. “The lady next door has four boys so they play football and do a whole lot out there.”

Yet it’s the feeling inside the house -- the lighted Christmas tree, too -- that means so much, especially at this time of year.

“A lot of foster kids don’t have what normal kids do,” said Dunlap, who has fostered 20 to 30 youths over the past decade. “You can see their gratefulness for five, six presents under the tree. They’re not used to that -- or the love you give them, what it’s really all about.

“It’s not about the gift, but about the blessing behind it.”

Camelot Community Care will have 23 children in homes for Christmas, a tiny fraction of the 1,901 children under the auspices of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

According to a published report, 1,117 will visit family or relatives during the holidays. The other 784 are being moved toward permanent placement through adoption, permanent guardianship or reunification with parents.

“We try to focus so much on making the holidays a special time, making it way better than what it normally would be,” Krause said. “Giving them new memories of what it should be like instead of what it’s been like.

“It’s almost like the holidays are things these kids remember as being the worst time of year. Either they never had a present, or their parents were doing drugs on those days. Whatever the case, the holidays are not usually good memories.”

That’s why it takes more people like Annette Dunlap and her husband to try changing them.

“There is a great need for foster parents, but it’s not for everybody,” Krause said.

Dunlap will vouch for that.

“Sometimes I think I’m not going to do this anymore,” she said. “You get frustrated. Then God gives you this peace and you go right back, because you’re trying to help another child.

“People need to get out of their minds these kids are trouble-makers and see what they’re all about. Once you get them in a home, show them love, that’s what they’re looking for -- that they feel needed, somebody listens to them and loves them.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055.

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