Local family speaks on the importance of adoption

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Big Bend Community Based Care is a child welfare service based out of Tallahassee that has helped 2,000 kids in Northwest Florida find their forever homes.

One local family has opened its doors to more than 50 kids over the years to show them there's no place like home.

According to Bay County Life Management officials, the need for foster families in our area is high.

Tricia Pearce of the Life Management Center said, "We, in our area, actually have the highest number of children removed from the home in the state."

The Uszuko family in Southport hopes to change that.

Jo Ann Uszuko, the mother of four adopted children said, "We had learned about the desperate need for fostering and learned about the availability of so many children for adoption."

Jo Ann and her husband were initially going to adopt a distant relative's child, but life had other plans. "When that fell through, we proceeded into foster care and we immediately, like the next day, got Hailey," she explained.

Over the years, they've housed more than 50 kids and have adopted 4: Hailey, Alyssa, Kaitlen, and David or "DJ."

Hailey and Kaitlen were born from the same mother and have never been separated through the foster system.

"We've known people that have come in here and they had siblings but they got separated. So it's kind of hard seeing other foster kids get separated," Hailey explained.

The Uszukos were nervous at first, but Hailey changed that.

"When Hailey bopped into the house, here was this little bubbly two-year-old and we immediately got over the nervousness. The concern about ourselves was gone, it was all about making her comfortable and making her feel welcome," Jo Ann said.

Now, the Uszukos are like any other family.

"I don't even think about them being adopted, they're just our children," Jo Ann continued.

The kids are enjoying their summer vacation, they play games, and play with all their pets in their forever home.

"We feel loved, which is something not a lot of other kids feel," said Hailey.

The family said they encourage others to adopt.

Jo Ann explained, "Our lives have been enriched and we've been blessed."

If you'd like to learn more about the adoption process, call the Life Management Center nearest you or click the link at the top of this page.