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More children living in shelters

The estimated number of Hillsborough children under age 5 in shelters is doubled to 1,000.

By SARAH SCHWEITZER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 8, 2000


TAMPA -- As the number of teens in need of foster homes continues to grow, more of the county's youngest children are using shelter services than previously believed.

While earlier numbers indicated that nearly 500 children 5 years old and under were living in protective custody, new information from the Hillsborough County Children's Board shows that more than 1,000 such children are living in shelter settings.

"We were not paying close enough attention," said Luanne Panacek, executive director of the Children's Board.

Panacek said the underestimate resulted from counting the number of children 5 years old and younger whose cases had been heard by a judge and resulted in a foster care placement. But nearly as many children, she said, were living in shelter settings without judicial involvement.

"They simply did not show up in the numbers," she said. "We were surprised that there were so many more."

The new numbers were released Thursday at a Children's Board meeting to address the foster care crisis. There are too many children and too few homes to care for them.

Panacek said it was especially important to address the needs of these younger children since research has shown that development during a child's first threeyears is critical.

"If the right things are not done during this period, then things can be much worse down the line," Panack said.

Children's advocates assigned to study the needs of children 5 and under offered several long-term suggestions Thursday, among them:

Assessing children's needs, using multiple sources but assigning one person to coordinate the services.

Recruiting more families with adoption as a goal.

Providing services to children with developmental delays as soon as possible.

Offering more effective substance abuse treatment for parents of young children.

Board officials also reported that the number of teens in the state's care continues to grow. While there were 400 teens in the system earlier this year, there are now more than 500. The majority, board officials said, have no family support and are expected to have long-term stays in the state's care.

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