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Boys Town Foster Parents Help Keep Family Close, Despite Separation and Distances

​For Boys Town North Florida Therapeutic Foster Parents Lex and Debbie Collins, caring for their youth and trying to keep families together are always top priorities.

For 17-year-old Rainee-Gray, the Collinses' efforts have meant that she and her siblings have been able to stay in touch with their own parents through difficult times.

Rainee-Gray arrived at the Collinses' home as a non-relative placement back in 2014. Lex and Debbie also took in Rainee-Gray's younger brother and older sister so the kids could stay together for as long as possible.

Unfortunately, the parental rights of Rainee-Gray's and her siblings' mom and dad were terminated in the winter of 2016. It was a tough time for all the kids.

But Rainee-Gray and her brother and sister didn't want to totally lose touch with their parents. They let the Collinses know this, and Lex and Debbie did what they could through the courts to overturn a "no contact" order.

The Collinses knew how important family connections were. Through persistence and with the court's blessing, they began facilitating supervised family visits for the kids and their mother and father as often as Rainee-Gray and her siblings wanted to see them.

"Since the kids were older when they came to us, and their parents were still in the area, we felt it would be best if they had supervised contact with them, since they would need to be able to navigate those relationships once they became 18," Lex said. "In this case, we were able to petition the court and it was accepted."

The Collinses' work to keep the family connected did not stop there.

Rainee-Gray has one other brother with significant mental health and behavioral needs. His needs make it necessary for him to live a long distance from Rainee-Gray and his other siblings. Again, Lex and Debbie stepped in to make arrangements for the whole family to see each other.

They worked to organize visits with the brother for holidays and even made the long trip by car to bring him back to their home for a four-day visit. Lex and Debbie bought him Christmas gifts and celebrated with all the children in their home. During the visit, they also made sure all the kids saw their mother and father by supervising visits. They continue to arrange visits with the brother several times a year, planning fun activities like fishing, hunting and boating.

"It has ultimately been good for everyone, though these situations are always difficult," Lex said. "Once their biological parents realized we were actually on their side, too, it became somewhat easier. We always want to do what's best for the biological family when we can."

For Lex and Debbie Collins, family is everything.