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Become a foster parent and get rich! Yeah, right

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BOWEN
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By C. T. BOWEN, Pasco Times Editor of Editorials

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 29, 2002


Tired of dismal stock returns, multilevel marketing efforts that yield little or a continued failure to hit more than three numbers on the Lotto drawing?

Have we got a get-rich-quick scheme for you. Abused and neglected children.

Just ask Corinna and Steven Gourlay.

The couple in Forest Lakes Estates in west Pasco is making a killing. The state of Florida reimburses them an average of 56 cents an hour to care for a foster child.

So what if that's a mere 10 percent of the minimum wage? Do you really want to earn more by working in a hot kitchen flipping burgers? Or sweating outside mowing lawns? Forget it. Work from the comfort of your own home.

The stipend's only requirement is that it must cover food, clothing, personal care items, gas for the chauffeuring duties, higher utility costs for water and power, and the endless incidentals that accompany school-age children from supplies, to class portraits and fundraisers.

Of course, a little perspective might be in order.

"We pay more to kennel our dogs," said Jack Levine, president of the Center for Florida's Children.

Oh.

Not an exaggeration, either. A spot check of kennels listed in the west Pasco telephone book found daily charges of up to $16 for putting up a 60-pound dog.

The Gourlays receive a per diem averaging $13.50 per child.

Still interested?

Some of the Gourlays' neighbors are. But, for all the wrong reasons.

As Times staff writer Ryan Davis revealed this week, the Gourlays are accused of violating the neighborhood deed restrictions. They are suspected of running a for-profit business by caring for five foster children in their home.

"To imagine that all foster parents who obtain a license are, by definition, for-profit enterprises, is an absolute absurdity," said Levine.

The license, incidentally, indicates the Gourlays have submitted to background checks and domestic safety inspections. It is not a business license.

The Gourlays do not receive a salary. The reimbursement is not taxed by the federal government. Foster parents are volunteers caring for abused and neglected children in a time of need.

Family Continuity Program, the non-profit agency handling foster care in Pasco and Pinellas counties, places 10 to 15 children each weekday. They rely on people like the Gourlays who accept multiple children into their home.

It is important to note these youngsters are not strangers to west Pasco.

"These are kids that go to school here, that are in our community. We want our kids here," said Tracy Stodart, assistant director of operations at Family Continuity.

Not all the neighbors share the association's attitude. A letter from Richard and Tracy Cooper elsewhere on this page indicates their belief that money isn't the issue. They blame ageism.

It is unfortunate. Neighborhoods are enriched, not damaged by having multigenerational occupants. And Forest Lake Estates' proximity to Chasco elementary and middle schools makes it a likely candidate to lure more families with school-age children as permanent residents.

Facing neighborhood opposition just for helping people is not an unheard of phenomenon in west Pasco. A year ago, some residents in Embassy Hills circulated a petition balking at a group home for six mentally disabled women.

The dispute in Forest Lakes Estates is reminiscent of a deed restriction battle more than a decage ago in Nature's Hideaway in Seven Springs. Then, however, caring for senior citizens, not foster children was the focus.

Neighbors contended that taking in three elderly boarders constituted an occupation by a nurse's aide living in Nature's Hideaway. They sued in June 1991, saying their property values had diminished. Circuit Judge W. Lowell Bray granted an injunction.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal disagreed in a 1993 ruling, and Judge Christopher Altenbernd authored a strongly worded concurring opinion that said in part:

"Individual neighborhoods should not be allowed to decide that a small home, occupied by elderly or disabled residents, is a locally undesirable land use."

The same reasoning should hold true for children.

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