The response to Ohio’s opioid problems can’t be just about helping adults face their addictions. Communities must also make sure the innocent victims of the epidemic aren’t forgotten.
Children of addicts are often left behind, either temporarily or permanently, and as a result, demands on foster care are straining an already overburdened and underfunded system.
Today there are over 15,000 children in foster care in a state with fewer than 7,200 foster families to fill the need. The problem is expected to get worse.
A report released last week by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio predicted that by 2020 there could be 20,000 foster children statewide and that related costs could rise from $370 million to $550 million.
Currently, 52 percent of the foster care tab is picked up locally, 38 percent federally, and just 10 percent by the state.
Though that funding formula will have to be recalculated, the greater challenge may be finding enough foster families to fill the need.
A positive step in that direction was taken last week when Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that eight counties, including Allen County, hit hard by overdose deaths will be part of a “family finding and foster family recruitment program.”
A $1 million grant will provide the cost of a full-time staff member in each county who will be responsible for family search and engagement and foster family recruitment. The program will be administered by the Waiting Child Fund, a nonprofit with expertise in foster care.
Certainly, the pilot project will need to expand if successful. Ohio’s drug problems and foster parent shortage aren’t limited to those eight counties.
The Public Children Services Association report found that in 2015, half of all children taken into protective custody across the state had parents who used drugs, and 28 percent had parents who were opioid users.
Several area counties surpassed the 28 percent figure. Hancock County was at 44 percent; Putnam 64 percent; Seneca 67 percent; and Hardin 100 percent.
The report found that more children are entering agency care and are staying in foster care longer because, in many cases, their parents relapse or die of overdoses.
Ohio has been in need of more foster parents since well before the state’s opioid problems were considered an epidemic, but the need has increased dramatically. There are nearly 3,000 more children in the system today than in 2010.
The call for help has been issued.
During times of blood shortages, people step up to donate. When the Red Cross needs volunteers or funds to respond to a disaster, like a flood or fire, people step up.
A similar response is needed now in Ohio with foster care.
We encourage anyone who has the heart and ability to help the most vulnerable victims of the ongoing drug crisis — children — to step up. To find out more about becoming a foster parent, call Hancock County Job and Family Services at 419-429-8065.