LOGAN — Along with the national trend, Hocking County Children Services has seen an increase in the amount of children in foster care due to parental drug abuse since the beginning of the opiate epidemic.
A new analysis of federal foster care data for fiscal year 2017 shows Ohio as one of five states with the biggest jump in the rate of children entering foster care. The study, conducted by Child Trends (a national research group that focuses on children and families) indicated nationally one in three children who entered foster care in 2017 was because of parental drug abuse.
The other four states impacted most in the U.S. are Wyoming, New York, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. The rate of U.S. children entering foster care due to parental drug abuse increased by five percent in 2017; in Ohio it increased 29 percent.
“Our state along with four other states have seen some of the highest increases, which kind of goes hand-in-hand with what we’ve been seeing as far as locally, just because of the drug problem,” explained Jody Walker, director for South Central Ohio Job & Family Services.
Walker stated currently 26 children are in custody for Hocking County: 17 kids in temporary custody and nine kids in permanent custody or (PPLA) a Planned Permanent Living Arrangement. In February 2018, there were 14 children in temporary custody and 12 in permanent custody.
Due to the length of time it takes to recover from drug addiction, Walker explained that kids are in custody longer, and they often see kids who have more severe needs such as mental health and behavioral issues.
Walker said it’s not uncommon for them to have children being served by mental health, Developmental Disabilities, Family and Children First, the school system, as well other social service agencies in the community. This makes it difficult for placement of children in their custody because the needs of the children can dictate a more specialized placement, which requires placement further from Hocking County, as specialized placements are few and far between.
“It’s kind of changed the dynamics over the past few years. We’ve seen more families taking care of relatives. If we didn’t have so many families in Hocking County stepping up to care for nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, or grandkids then we’d have a lot more kids in custody,” expressed Walker.
One thing that could prove helpful is the Family First Prevention Services Act, passed on Feb. 9, 2018, that will redirect federal funds to provide services to keep children safely with their families and out of foster care. However, when foster care is needed it allows federal reimbursement for care in family-based settings and certain residential treatment programs for children with emotional and behavioral disturbance requiring special treatment.
The Family First Prevention Services Act includes:
• Long overdue federal investments in prevention for children at risk of foster care.
• Federal funds targeted for children in foster family homes or in qualified residential treatment programs or other special settings.
• The new dollars for preventing children from entering foster care and restricting federal funds for group care take effect in FY 2020 so states can make necessary accommodations.
In relation to the drug epidemic, this act will reauthorize and update the Regional Partnership Grant program. The program funds state and regional grantees seeking to provide evidence-based services to prevent child maltreatment related to substance abuse as an important step in addressing the recent spike in requests to child welfare systems due to opioids and other drugs.
Walker acknowledged the great efforts the Hocking County community has made toward helping out with the epidemic they’re facing, such as the levy that was passed in November for Children Services and the relationships they have with other agencies around the area to provide children with the best care.
One of the agencies that Walker noted is the Hocking County Prosecutors Office. The office has been working to find grants to help Hocking County Children Services and were recently awarded a grant to help combat and deal with the opioid issue.
“We were able to add a position in our Children Services office that’s grant funded to focus on families who’ve been effected by the opiate drug issue. So we have a case worker now that we’ve kind of dedicated toward working with those families,” shared Walker.
Walker also stated that Ohio START (Sobriety, Treatment and Reducing Trauma) is another great thing happening for Hocking County and was created through the office of former Ohio Attorney General and now Governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine.
“Through the START Grant we have someone with Integrated Services, a local mental health provider, who provides a peer support individual for people who are battling addiction,” added Walker.
Ohio START is an intervention program that provides specialized victim services, such as intensive trauma counseling, to children who have suffered victimization with substance abuse of a parent being the primary risk factor. The program also assists parents of children referred to the program with their path to recovery from addiction.
“I think one of the biggest things would be just getting people to understand this is an issue that’s not going to go away tomorrow, it’s not going to go away next week. It something that we’re going to be dealing with for a number of years, and just awareness that we’re here to serve the children to make sure they’re in the best position possible to be successful. It doesn’t happen overnight and it takes all of us in our community and county to work towards,” concluded Walker.