By EILEEN MCCLORY
Children being protected by Hancock County Children’s Protective Services are being sent to Youngstown, a four-hour drive from Findlay, because that’s the closest foster care placement available.
“It’s taking more and more resources and a longer time to find an appropriate placement for a child,” said Diana Hoover, director of Hancock County Job and Family Services, which includes Children’s Protective Services.
Due to the complexity of their needs and the rising number of children, the costs to put Hancock County children in foster care increased by 56 percent between 2015 and 2017, according to the agency. The number of Hancock County children in foster care in 2015 was 72, and the number rose to 91 in 2017, a 22 percent increase.
Addicted parents impact kids
The costs are rising faster than the number of children in care because some of the kids have severe developmental needs, stemming from being born addicted to opioids and living in homes with addicted parents. They can have mental health problems and behavioral problems. The Hancock County children with the most intensive special needs have had a placement cost of $450 a day, Hoover said.
“Just the severity and complexity of these situations and reports and what the situations we are dealing with are so much more than they used to be,” said Angie Rader, administrator of Children and Adult Protective Services for the agency.
Hoover said the county has had as few as 35 children and as many as 72 kids in and out of foster care in a single month between 2009 and November 2017. The numbers fluctuate as some children stay in foster care for just a day, while others stay in foster care for months or years.
The agency used to see maybe one orphan in a five-year period, Hoover said, but last month, 10 out of the 53 kids in foster care were orphans.
“We recently had a situation where there were a couple of children in foster care, and their dad OD’d and died, and the caseworker had to go out and tell the children that their father had passed away. And just the day before, they were asking when they can see him next,” Rader said.
Those types of situations take a toll on caseworkers, Rader said.
It doesn’t help that only 10 foster homes are certified by the agency locally, so foster placements go further away, adding to transportation costs for workers, and remove children from local support systems.
A lack of homes for foster children is not a unique problem to Hancock County. The whole state is having problems keeping up with the demand for foster homes as the opiate crisis hits hard.
According to a report from the Public Children Services Association of Ohio that uses 2015 data, there was an 11 percent increase in the number of children in foster care in Ohio between 2010 and 2015. Of those children, 50 percent had one parent using drugs. In Hancock County, 47 percent of foster care children had parental drug use.
Children are also in foster care for longer periods. On average in 2016, according to the same statewide report, children were in foster care for 38 days longer than they were in 2010.
Because of the high cost of foster care placement, combined with the number, complexity and length of placements, Hoover said her agency’s budget for children’s services will run out by June.
The agency receives funds from federal and state sources that total about $1.2 million a year. Local funds totaling $525,000 cover part of the costs.
But the agency needs an estimated additional $553,105 to cover expenses just this year, according to the 2018 Children’s Protective Services budget.
Hoover said she didn’t think the county’s budget would be able to handle the costs of both Children’s Protective Services and Adult Protective Services in the long term, which is why her agency has proposed its first tax levy for the May ballot.
The levy, listed as Issue 7 on the ballot, is a 1.2-mill property tax that would generate $2.3 million per year for 10 years. The cost per $100,000 property would be $42 a year.
Hoover said a property tax is being sought instead of a sales tax because a sales tax goes into the county general fund, while a property tax can be earmarked for a specific agency.
If funding needs change and there is not a need for the entire levy, the tax could be reduced or not collected for a year, Hoover said.
The levy would help provide services for foster homes, including transportation costs for doctor’s appointments for the children and counseling and support services for foster parents. It would also provide money for foster care placement costs, without stressing the county budget.
The levy is supposed to fund both children’s and adult protective services, which is also stressed due to the opiate crisis.
“To take a child into your home, even temporarily, is a big task, and we want to make sure that foster and adoptive parents have what they need,” Hoover said.
In Ohio, 48 of the 88 counties have passed levies that pay for child and adult protective services.
Local funding may be the only option. Hoover said the money can’t come from grants, because the agency rarely qualifies for them.
If funding doesn’t step up, some children may be stuck in situations they would normally be taken away from.
“If you don’t have funds to pay the foster placements, then children may not be able to be in foster care,” Hoover said.