By Gail Levy/WJHG | Posted to WJHG.COM ON Thu 4:36 PM, Apr 04, 2019 | Updated: Fri 6:49 AM, Apr 05, 2019
BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) – “We do have, certainly, steady numbers and increasing numbers,” said Magistrate Shannon Lord of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida.
Lord says Hurricane Michael brought more than physical destruction.
“You have people in crisis. You have people even, you know, particularly after the hurricane, that now have no housing, no stability,” said Lord.
Officials with the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida are also feeling the effects.
“We got about a 40 percent increase in the number of children served for this year so far, from where we were last year,” said Executive Director of the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida, Suzan Gage.
But both the court and the non-profit agency are searching for answers.
“Could it be Hurricane Michael? Could it be, you know, parents with opioids or is it just trauma drama or abuse or whatever it is? You just gotta step back and ask what is going on with our young children,” said Gage.
“They can’t meet their basic needs probably, and, you know, they go to look for something for comfort or numbness, and they go back to using drugs and you know how they typically would cope with stressors,” said Lord.
Lord says when those parents turn to substance abuse or other behaviors causing their children trauma, they have no other choice but to put their child in foster care.
“We need local foster homes. We have some many kids out of home that we’re having to place them elsewhere, sometimes in Tallahassee, sometime in South Florida, sometimes out of state,” said Lord.
Now, both are working to keep kids out of the system, by giving parents the proper help.
“We have child-parent psychotherapists who provide that psychotherapy with the child and the parent and also they provide a program called circles of security,” said Lord.
“We have a mental health therapist that if the families wanting additional support, they can reach out to her,” said Gage.
“Our first goal is always reunification with a parent,” said Lord.
State Senator Bill Montford is working to pass a bill in the Legislature giving foster parents $300 more per child in the home, in hopes this will help the foster families give children better care.