Nearly 4,000 students in Bay County being raised by guardians or other family members


BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Nationwide three million children are being raised by grandparents, and Bay County is no stranger to that trend.

Locally, almost 4,000 students are being raised by someone other than their parents, whether that be aunts, uncles, or grandparents.

Many of these children are being raised by someone other than their parents and the instability within the home can potentially lead to other issues for children.

“It’s fairly common, it’s sad to see, but it’s something that we deal with regularly,” said Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford.

Sheriff Ford says drugs are something he sees on a daily basis, but the way it can separate families is the part no one thinks about.

“It doesn’t just affect the person using the drugs, their spouses, their children are all affected. Many times we see it become a generational issue, whether that is drug abuse or abuse in general,” said Sheriff Ford.

Substance abuse is a county wide problem, and can lead to issues with children and their schooling.

“We are trying to help kindergarteners, pre-k kids get in school, get ready for school and they don’t have a mom or dad, and they have to depend on other family members,” said Superintendent of Schools, Bill Husfelt. 

Much of Karen Key Smith’s family has suffered from the disease of addiction, leaving her to care for her grandkids.

“I swore I would never be the grandmother that was raising her grandchildren, but you never say never,” said Key Smith.

School leaders and family members like Key Smith work together to fill that parental role.

“Grandparents, they get to do anything, you can have ice cream for dinner, ice cream for breakfast, nerds for supper. You can really do whatever you want to do, but when you are charged with the task of raising the children it becomes very different,” said Key Smith.

Key Smith filed for custody of her two grandchildren three years ago and says that it couldn’t have had a better outcome.

“Jocelyn had missed I want to say 48 days of school in one year, she was almost 2 full grade levels behind, and now she is top in her class,” said Key Smith.

Many of the families in similar situations hope that one day the children can eventually be reunited with their parents. And there are many resources locally to help addicts to recover and get back on their feet.

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