MANATEE -- When Manatee County parents returned 14 adopted children to the state in a recent 22-month period, it sent shock waves through the local social service community.
In an effort to prevent more returned children, Manatee County government has approved a $376,758 contract for a new adoption preservation program to be run by Family Partnership Center, 602 Third St. E., Bradenton, executive director Katrina Bellemare announced Monday.
"It's tragic and should never happen," Bellemare said. "This program is so needed."
These new support services for adopted families, called the Chosen Family Program, will be the first of their kind in several years in Manatee County, Bellemare said.
Chosen Family will begin in October and will offer specialized counseling, parenting education, respite care, educational advocacy and case management for all Manatee County families who have an adopted child up to age 18, regardless if the adoption was through the state, private sources or international, Bellemare said.
A recent survey found there were 1,308 adopted children in Manatee County in 2013.
A nominal fee will be charged for some services, generally ranging from $5 to $20 per session, but fees may be waived for documented financial hardships, Bellemare said. No insurance is needed.
The Chosen Families program is primarily funded by Manatee County government through its Children's Services Dedicated Millage.
"We told the county our capacity would be 150 parents and 225 children," Bellemare said. "We will be focusing on prevention all the way through treatment."
The nonprofit Family Partnership Center was formed in 1994 to strengthen families and prevent child abuse through parenting education and support, Bellemare said.
But the organization did not have counselors. So that's why Family Resources Inc. and Family Network on Disabilities, both of whom have counselors, signed on as partners.
"Two new counselors will have offices in our building, which will be the entry door to the program," Bellemare said.
From February 2012 to December 2014, 14 adopted Manatee County children were sent back to the state for care, the Bradenton Herald previously reported.
The spike in the number of children being returned was so alarming that the Sarasota YMCA's Safe Children's Coalition called Manatee County government to try to find solutions.
Safe Children Coalition asked the county to bring in stakeholder agencies to create a new program for adoption preservation that would offer intensive services to families long after the adoption, something that isn't available now, said Susan Ford, a senior human services analyst with Manatee County and the person charged with putting the county's program together.
Family Partnership Center's new program will run October 2015 through December 2016, and Bellemare will have to reapply for another grant in 2016.
Call Family Partnership Center at 941-756-3007 for more information or to be placed on the wait list for the Chosen Families Program.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.