If you're interested in meeting real-life heroes, look no further than the nearest foster parents.

Many are related to needy children, obeying the age-old call of conscience by stepping in to care for young family members in need. But many others are strangers, for whom any child in troubled circumstances is a sacred obligation.

On Tuesday we published a front-page feature highlighting some of these heroes, along with a perennial problem: the shortage of foster parents in Clatsop County.

The county spews children into the state's protective system but often lacks the right mix of safe houses to accommodate multi-child and teen placements.

One only has to read our law enforcement news for a week or two to know there are many volatile family situations here. You don't have to be great at reading between the lines to know that many of these terse little reports represent tragedies for innocent children. Out-of-control adults are very bad news indeed for the kids in their lives.

A foster child may be: A drug-affected baby; a group of three siblings whose parents are in jail; a 16-year-old girl with her baby; a 13-year-old boy who is a "throwaway" kid; or a four-year-old girl who has been neglected and doesn't know how to use a fork or spoon to eat.

This is where the state and foster parents come in, helping pick up the pieces.

Reading Tuesday's story makes it clear this area's children need even more of these heroes. All of Clatsop County has 27 foster homes and 46 children in foster care. With 17 fewer spots in foster homes this year compared to last, kids in crisis situations often must be transported to other counties, far away from extended family and familiar friends.

Eventually, homes are found for all children in need, but put yourself in the kid's place:

Imagine you are Tyler, a 3-year-old boy, sitting in an office for four hours while some lady tries to find a place you can stay tonight.

Or imagine you are Cassie, a 7-year-old girl, and the police just came to your house and arrested your mom and her boyfriend, and took you to a foster home.

Children face these situations daily in our region. And it is the good people who act as foster parents who provide a temporary safe place for these children whose parents can't or won't take care of them. Foster children stay in care until it is safe for them to go home, or until the courts decide that the parents aren't capable of caring for their children.

The need is legitimate and the tragedies are real. You can save a child's life by choosing to get involved.

• For details on how you can help, call the Department of Human Services - Child Welfare, 325-9179 Ext. 316 or Ext. 341, or e-mail elaine.downs@state.or.us