Foster parents are the gold mine that communities bank on to help rescue neglected, abandoned and otherwise helpless children. That investment in youth raises the prospect of high rewards in the salvation of children.
Manatee County faces a shortage of those benevolent adults who take on a huge responsibility when becoming foster parents — today, due to the surge in children deserted by wayward adults adrift in a sea of drugs. This community’s addiction epidemic — most conspicuous by the once again alarming number of heroin and fentanyl overdose deaths — ranks as the worst in Florida and one of the worst in the nation.
The repercussions on children — parents or guardians behind bars or forbidden visitation — can be measured here in one startling statistic: Manatee County has more children taken from their homes than the state average. The county is the worst in Florida for the number of child removals from households by welfare officials, about three times higher than the state average.
Child welfare officials and organizations are now desperate to expand the number of foster homes open to these victims of addiction. Some months, more than 100 children are figuratively deserted by their so-called loved ones and pushed into a state system unable to handle such an influx. The plea for foster help could not be louder.
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All of this came to light in the past two weeks with the Herald’s publication of several gut-wrenching reports, one on yet another surge in overdose deaths in Manatee County and another on the children left behind by adults swirling down the drug toilet.
Anyone who saw the disturbing images of an Ohio woman and man slumped over in the front seats of a van after overdosing on heroin and fentanylin with a 4-year-old strapped into a car seat behind them should now comprehend — if not already — the boundless toll heroin and opioid addiction takes on children. Police arrested the two, both — the boy’s grandmother and her boyfriend — unconscious when the images were taken. They would have likely died if they hadn’t received an opiate antidote by the responding ambulance crew.
The police department in East Liverpool, a small city of about 11,000 residents along the Ohio River, posted images on its Facebook page to illustrate — quite sharply — heroin’s frightening impact. The city’s safety director, Brian Allen, told reporters that officials debated about whether to post the photos. “Sometimes the truth is a gruesome thing,” Allen said. “And that picture is the truth of what my officers deal with every single day.”
Those two were revived with Narcan, a life-saving drug that reverses opioid overdoses. Manatee County Emergency Medical Services has administered a massive amount of that medication this year — more than a 200 percent increase from last year so far. Manatee Memorial Hospital treats hundreds of overdose cases a month.
Children are the primary victims of this societal drug epidemic. Congress is only addressing the issue with toothless legislation that provides zero resources to combat heroin’s deadly toll while acknowledging a tragedy exists. This is just another political football fumbled by callous demagogues grandstanding over ideology instead of humanity. The powers that be should be putting their words into action with resources.
Here in Manatee County, children need the community’s help. The county has averaged almost 60 child removals from homes monthly for the first half of this year, thrice the state average. The shortage of foster parents is acute. Should anyone want to help in any way, contact the Sarasota YMCA Safe Children Coalition, the region’s state-sanctioned agency for child welfare. For information, call 941-371-4799 or check out safechildrencoalition.org.