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The deaths of several Western New York children in recent years as a result of abuse and neglect. Thousands of broken families as the result of poverty, drug abuse, mental illness and poor decision-making. Erie County Child Protective Services stretched beyond its limits.

Children are in need, but what can you do?

Maybe more than you think:

Become a foster parent: Call the Erie County Department of Social Services at 858-7274 or visit the state Citizens’ Coalition for Children at nysccc.org to learn about agencies that can help prepare you. Many of these agencies also can suggest other ways people can help.

Every Child Ministry: “When kids come into our door, they typically have nothing, or a backpack,” said Kara Marong-Houlahan of Gateway-Longview. The Every Child foster care, adoption and orphan ministry, a nonprofit group made up of a coalition of churches, accepts cribs, beds, car seats, clothing, toothbrushes, blankets and more for children in need, from newborns to age 21. The group, headquartered at the Chapel at CrossPoint in Getzville, also provides baby sitters, transportation support, meals and other “acts of service” for foster parents adjusting to changes in family size. To volunteer or donate to the group, visit every-child.com.

Fresh Air Fund: The Fresh Air Fund brings low-income children from New York City to more wide open spaces across the state on 10-day vacations. To learn more about how the program operates in Western New York, or to host a child, visit freshairfund.org or call Cheryl Flick of Cheektowaga at 634-7017.

Respite opportunities: “Fostering is not for everybody,” said Michelle Federowicz of Gateway-Longview, which is why some adults who go through the training process decide to tackle respite care – handling foster parenting emergency duties occasionally, for a week or two at a time. “Some families start with respite because it’s short term,” Maroung-Houlahan said. “It’s kind of like practicing for foster parenting, it’s paid and after doing it a while, some say, “I’m ready now.” If you know a foster family, offer to go through a background check with the agency that helps them foster, and to baby sit once in a while. “As one of the families who benefits from that help, it’s amazing,” Marnie Bodapaty said. “It’s a huge blessing to us.”

– Scott Scanlon