Heroin Epidemic

Heroin epidemic in Manatee leads to ‘desperate’ shortage of foster homes; town hall set

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For at least two years, Manatee County has had more children removed from homes than the state average — and in some months, it has had the most removals in Florida.

The fact that Manatee County is the epicenter of the heroin epidemic in Florida has been a contributing factor, says Brena Slater, vice president of community-based care with the Safe Children Coalition.

“We have an extraordinary amount of removals in Manatee County,” she said. “We are higher than the state average. Manatee County has been highest in the state multiple months over the last year. A lot of the removals have been due to overdoses.”

The removal rate per 1,000 children this July was 7.94 in Manatee County compared with the state’s 3.71. Last December, the county’s rate was 11.8 compared to the state’s 3.79.

Month after month as more children are removed from homes throughout the county, it has put a strain on resources — there is not enough capacity in existing foster homes. In efforts to get more foster families in the community, Sarasota YMCA Safe Children Coalition, Department of Children and Families, and Manatee County government are hosting a town hall meeting from 6-8 p.m. Aug. 30 at the Dream Center, 922 24th St. E., Bradenton. The meeting is free and open to the public.

“We want the community to come out and work with us getting community-based solutions to the issues we are seeing in Manatee,” said Natalie Harrell, DCF spokeswoman. “We’ve seen a spike in children coming into foster care mainly as a result of the drug epidemic in Manatee County.”

Some children taken into custody have lost their parents to fatal overdoses, according to Slater.

“With having this extreme explosion of children being removed, particularly in Manatee County coming into care, we did not have the capacity of foster homes,” she said.

The Safe Children Coalition used to have 30 or 40 children coming into care each month, but that has jumped to more than 100 some months, Slater said.

“When you triple the number, we definitely had a shortage of foster homes,” she said.

This need of foster homes is what prompted the town hall meeting, held in an area with one of the higher removal rates, according to Slater.

“We want to keep children in their own county, own community,” she said. “We need foster parents desperately so we can keep kids in our community.”

But Manatee County has not always been above the state average in its removal rate. According to data from Florida’s Center for Child Welfare, Manatee County was only higher than the state average in nine months between July 2012-June 2014. But between August 2014-July 2016, the county was higher than the state average in 23 months — and the difference was much greater, too.

“It has been extremely high the last year,” Slater said.

Some topics that will be discussed during the town hall will be the “drug epidemic in Manatee County, the rise in children in out-of-home care, the need for foster parents and services within the community to address this issue,” according to the county’s website.

“It really is to inform the community of how many children are being removed in their community,” Slater said. “We really like the community to come together and take care of our children because they are our future.”

Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson

If you go: Town Hall meeting

When: 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30

Where: Dream Center, 922 24th St. E., Bradenton

Why: To discuss the drug epidemic in Manatee County and need for foster parents and services within the community

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