Foster Care in Clay County

Kids First of Florida fights to provide normalcy, structure to abused children


CLAY COUNTY – Paul and Jacque Supinsky never hesitated when Kids First of Florida called for the first time. Or the second. Or the third.

They knew children were in a desperate need of love and attention – and they had plenty of both.

Brothers and sisters have been removed from homes with nothing more than a trash bag of belongings. Parents who were deemed incapable of caring for their children, either by abuse, drug and alcohol addictions or neglect, often don’t realize how their behavior sometimes leads to more anguish than any child should know.

As foster parents, the Supinskys know their time with their “beautiful babies” is fleeting. While the state only allows for child to be placed in Foster Care for one year, Kids First works with parents to help them work through issues to make the separation as brief as possible. If the parents clean up their act, the children may be returned. If not, the children will be available for adoption.

So they make every moment count.

“For some of these kids, we had to buy them their first toothbrush,” Jacque said.

Jacque knows she and her husband can’t replace the parents. In fact, they hope families eventually will be reunited. Kids First's ultimate goal is to reunite the family. But until then, the Supinskys provide some much-needed structure and normalcy to lives that often includes more squalor and pain than compassion.

“We’re taking it day by day,” Jacque said. “Me and my husband we’re able to have children. One day I looked at my husband and said I’m ready for something else. Just then, a Foster Care commercial came on.

“I will admit, there are some days you rethink your decision. But the happiness you feel for these kids far outweighs everything.”

The Supinskys got their first child nearly 10 months ago. With equal shares of desperation and necessity, Kids First then asked the Supinskys if they could take four more brothers and sisters. Despite the daunting challenges, the couple agreed.

“Their clothes were filthy and full of fleas,” Jacque said. “It was awful. Paul and I decided to throw it all away and buy them some new things. Some of them had never had a toothbrush or comb. It was heartbreaking to see how they were living.”

Although the state only allows a Foster Care family to have a total of five children, it made an exception for the Supinskys when the brother of the first foster child was placed in the system.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon, said Kids First Chief Operations Officer Joanne Robertson.

“Our first goal is to keep siblings together,” Robertson said. “It’s important and it’s difficult. It’s all supposed to be temporary, but it tends to be longer than we want.”

There are 546 children in the Foster Care program in Clay County, Robertson said, and 328 of those have been removed from the home. Many are placed with relatives, but the majority are placed in one of the 68 certified foster homes in the county.

“When we get a child, there’s no such thing as waiting on a home,” Robertson said. “We’ve got four hours to find one. We always look for relatives first, and if we can’t find one or if none of our Foster Care families can help, we’ll go to Duval or St. Johns or another county. It’s important to get these children settled.”

The Supinskys have four boys and two girls. They range from ages 4-14.

The children are given routines, which includes making their beds, doing homework, cooking, setting the table, learning manners and personal hygiene. For many, it’s the first time they’ve known structure.

“I’m proud to say some of my children are on the honor roll now,” Jacque said. “When the brothers and sisters got here, they were so happy just to have a bed and something to eat. Now they’re on the [Advanced Placement] Honor Roll.

Paying for the care of six children isn’t easy. Kids First of Florida currently is accepting back to school supplies for its children. Donations and new supplies can be dropped off at the Kids First office at 1726 Kingsley Ave. in Orange Park or supplies can be purchased directly from Items bought online will be delivered to the Kids First office.

Jacque knows her time with her six foster children is running out. They all will be gone by Christmas, only to be replaced with other children who are in desperate need of help as the cycle of abuse continues.

“You get attached,” she said. “We don’t want them to call us mom and dad. They call us Aunt Jacque and Uncle Paul. But we’ve become proud parents.

“It’s the most-rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”


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