Foster care numbers rise in Ohio

Published 12:16 pm Tuesday, December 26, 2017

More than 15,500 children in other’s care

Due to Ohio’s opioid epidemic, a record number of children are entering the foster care system.

The Public Children Services Association of Ohio says that the situation is exploding county budgets and overwhelming available foster care resources.

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According to the statewide agency, there are 1,000 more Ohio kids that will be spending the holidays in foster care this year, compared to 2016, and they expect that number to be 2,000 more if the rate at which children are entering custody due to the opioid epidemic continues.

Rich Blankenship, the assistant director at the Lawrence County Department of Job and Family Services, said the county had 62 children in the care of children services, which is down from 70 in September.

“And that can change any day,” he said. Most of the kids are in the foster care system because their parents or legal guardian had a drug-related offense. “That’s the large majority of them. We do get some delinquent kids, unruly kids, but the majority of the cases are drug related.”

He said the cost for the county is $1.5 million this year, which comes mainly from state funds. The county commissioners put in $80,000 for Children’s Services.

Most of the children are in foster homes and the county pays between $25-$55 a day for that. Kids with mental, physical or behavioral issues end up in long-term care at a residential center, and that can cost up to $250 a day per child.

Blankenship said that the state has allocated an additional $100,000 to counties this year “due to the fact that foster care has risen so much due to the opioid problem.”

“$100,000 sounds like a lot, but when we’re paying over $4,000 a day, it doesn’t last long,” he said.

PCSAO’s executive director, Angela Sausser, said Ohio led the nation from 2002 to 2010 in safely reducing the number of children in out-of-home care — by 42 percent.

“But the Great Recession followed by the opioid crisis led to more children being drawn into the system, and these kids are more complex, their trauma more challenging, and their placement costs dramatically higher than Ohio’s child protection agencies have ever witnessed,” Sausser said.

She said the numbers suggest an alarming trend. On July 1, 2013, 12,654 children were in agency custody. Four years later, that number had climbed to 15,145 kids. In October the number surpassed 15,500.

“Many of these kids watched their parents overdose or die,” Sausser said. “They are missing milestones with their families such as birthday parties and ringing in the New Year, and many are staying in care longer due to their parents’ relapsing.”

If entry rates continue at this pace, more than 20,000 Ohio kids will be in care on any given day by 2020, and the cost of placing them in foster homes and residential facilities — where more traumatized children can get the behavioral health services they need — will surge by 67 percent to over half a billion dollars a year.

“We are sounding the alarm now — we need help,” Sausser said. “We need substantially more state resources before we lose the ability to provide essential services to vulnerable children.”

The legislature stepped in this year to provide more funding to beleaguered county children services agencies, adding $15 million to the $45 million that Ohio kicks in to match federal and local funds each year. But foster care placement costs alone have risen by an estimated $45 million since last year, and that doesn’t count staffing or other agency services.

“I hope the legislature steps up even more to address this problem,” Blankenship said. “Because I don’t see an end in sight to it in the near future. I don’t think anyone does. It’s just sad.”