Columbus — Child welfare advocates in Ohio say children have become the “invisible victims” of the opioid crisis, as more kids are put into foster care and funding for children services agencies falls short.
Ohio has some 14,000 children in agency custody — a nearly 13 percent increase since the end of 2012. A recent survey by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio found at least half of children taken into custody last year had parents using drugs that were mostly opiates, The Columbus Dispatch reported as part of a series on stories on the impact of heroin in Ohio.
Some counties have reported more children are being adopted than reunited with their parents.
According to the survey, nearly 94 percent of the state’s 88 county Children Services agencies say heroin and other opiates are a serious problem in their communities. But the agencies haven’t received new money from the state, which is ranked last in the nation for child protection funding.
Lorra Fuller, who heads a Children Services agency in Scioto County, said she can only afford to pay local foster parents $27.50 a day. The agency has a $3 million budget that keeps taking hits, including a $16,000 penalty this year for not meeting the federal standard on parent-child visitation rates.
The agency had 80 children in custody four years ago. It had 173 by early this summer, with more than 50 under the age of 2.
“We have to keep children safe, and we rob Peter to pay Paul to do it,” Fuller said.
Lawmakers’ responses to the opiate crisis have focused more on opioid prescribing practices and treatment for addicts and less on the child welfare system, advocates said.
“Everybody’s patting themselves on the back, saying we’ve shut down the pill mills, we’ve got more treatment, we’re doing all kinds of stuff,” said Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors’ Association. “Well, what about the kids?”
Agency workers said they aren’t seeing much success with treatment and recovery. A program that provides treatment and prenatal care for pregnant addicts operates in four counties, and the state has just 17 family drug treatment courts.
“It’s taking a whole generation of our young parents,” said Catherine Hill, executive director of Athens County Children Services in southeastern Ohio.
The number of kids being taken into state custody doesn’t account for how many children are being taken in by relatives. Tim Harless, a spokesman for Richland County Children Services in Mansfield, said the child welfare system would be overwhelmed without families stepping up to care for the children of their drug-abusing relatives.
“There are a lot of families out there dealing with this without our involvement,” he said. “That number is probably much higher than the number of kids for whom we have actual cases.”