MANATEE COUNTY, Fla.-- With the opioid crisis hitting Manatee County particularly hard, state officials list the county among the highest in removing children from their homes.
Manatee County officials say this is mostly due to drugs and their main priority is to reunite children with parents in a safe environment.
- High rates of kids removed from home due to drugs
- Increase in cocaine and methamphetamine deaths
- States top priority: reunite children with parents
- Family Safety Alliance Manatee/Sarasota County
Last year, the county had more than 400 children removed from their homes and they say that more than half of those cases were because of drugs.
While the county has been facing an opioid epidemic over the last few years, some believe that the problem is bigger than just one drug.
"From 2015 to 2016 we saw an increase in cocaine and methamphetamine deaths," said Nathan Scott from Family Safety Alliance. "So it's a substance (ab)use problem and not just an opioid problem."
While the number of children being removed may seem alarming, state officials said they are working hard for positive outcomes.
Last year, Lily Critchfield lost custody of her one-year-old and two-year-old children because of substance abuse.
"I just know that they woke up to a new environment, completely different people, and I can't imagine how they felt," said Critchfield. "I was scared. It was a terrifying time."
With help, Critchfield began a treatment program and was reunited with her children six months later.
"I was just so happy like I knew that their life was going to be completely different than what they knew," she said. "They were actually going to be happy and not have that stress, but also like I got my babies back."
The Family Safety Alliance says that almost 99 percent of the time children are reunited with their parents.