Our children need you: Local foster care needs rise with the opioid, heroin epidemics

Susie Bowie is the executive director of Manatee Community Foundation.
Susie Bowie is the executive director of Manatee Community Foundation.

All across America, you can find common stories repeating in daily newspapers. They are the stories of the heroin and opioid deaths becoming so familiar to us in Manatee County. We are just beginning to fully understand their toll on our citizens, families and economy.

Imagine yourself in the shoes of a mother losing a son to an overdose, a friend watching peers helplessly struggle with addiction, or a family that has exhausted its savings dealing with the impact of substance abuse. As individuals, it is easy to feel numb without knowing how one person can help.

Our community is working hard on solutions, understanding that answers cannot come fast enough — a frustration shared by many. But “our community” is not just government and formal organizations. It is many thousands of people, each with the power to do something.

During the past six months, Manatee Community Foundation has focused on one element of this complex issue: the children in foster care who have been removed from homes with drug addicted parents. In Manatee County, an average of 658 children resided in out-of-home care in 2015. This jumped to an average of 817 children in 2016. This year the numbers are continuing to climb.

Our gratitude flows to the Manatee County Foster Care Initiative, a group of 27 local nonprofits, government agencies and citizens that recently met in a series of working sessions to collectively recommend short-term funding solutions for the foster care crisis we now face.

Convened by Manatee Community Foundation with financial support from the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, the group accomplished its original task, creating a plan to guide donors and local foundations in the most effective ways of helping. The Barancik Foundation quickly stepped up with a $125,000 grant for the top two recommendations.

Part of the grant will fund a marketing campaign to recruit new foster families, making it possible for more children to remain here instead of further traumatizing them with travel to nearby counties. Currently, we have only 44 foster homes in Manatee County. We need 100 more.

The Sarasota Y’s Safe Children Coalition, the organization charged with foster home licensing in our area, has excellent staff and a well-structured program to screen and train those who are considering making a commitment. If circumstances are right in your home, consider the possibility of becoming a foster parent.

Think about your network in your neighborhood, faith-based community, friendships and work. Share this need. Word of mouth is such a powerful tool. Your discussions can lead to a nurturing household for a foster child while other forces are at work to secure permanent placement, hopefully back at home if parents can make the required changes.

The people who continue to actively work in the Manatee County Foster Care Initiative envision a family-centered, safe, prosperous and healthy community that leverages its resources to support families and children as they strive for success.

They believe that our residents have a strong sense of community, that we are resourceful and willing to provide these resources for critical community issues. They see the community as friendly, with people willing to get involved and work together. Being safe and healthy are very important in defining our sense of place.

As part of the Initiative, our expectation is that we can ignite the community’s willingness to respond. Without community involvement, we cannot solve this.

Can we count on you? Something as simple as sharing the need for foster parents with the right people can be your big contribution. Help us spread the word.

The conversation table continues to grow wider and longer with citizens and other organizations that want to help. Contact me at 941-556-5444 if you would like to join us. Contact the Safe Children Coalition at 941-721-7670 if you would like to explore becoming a foster parent.

Susie Bowie is the executive director of Manatee Community Foundation, an organization that strengthens Manatee County through philanthropy with caring people who live and give in our communities.