Child advocates: Opioid crisis straining foster care


By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The opioid crisis is overwhelming Ohio’s foster care system as record numbers of children are removed from the homes of drug-addicted parents, the state’s children service advocacy group said Thursday.

More than 15,500 children are now in foster care, up from about 12,600 four years ago, The Public Children Services Association of Ohio.

The state is on track to place more than 20,000 children in foster care by 2020, the trend driven by the worsening opioid epidemic, according to the report. Soaring use of opioids across the country has flooded the foster care system with tens of thousands of kids abandoned by addicted parents, orphaned by fatal overdoses and removed from homes by authorities who suspected drug activity.

Even more state funding is needed to address the Ohio crisis despite increases lawmakers provided this year, said Angela Sausser, the children services association’s executive director.

“We are sounding the alarm now — we need help,” Sausser said.

Lawmakers added $15 million to $45 million that Ohio provides to match federal and local funds annually, Sausser said. But foster care placement costs alone have risen by an estimated $45 million since last year, she said.

The association’s report comes a day after the federal government reported a record 63,600 overdose deaths nationwide last year, two thirds of them involving opioids, such as heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers.

Ohio has the nation’s second-highest death rate after West Virginia, at 39.1 per 100,000 residents, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state Health Department says a record 4,050 Ohioans died of drug overdoses last year.

In Franklin County in central Ohio, almost half of the 2,354 children who entered state custody last year came from households where parents had a drug problem, according to Franklin County Children Services. Opioids account for about half of the identified drugs, up from about a third just five years ago, the agency said.

Columbus foster mom Tracy Jones has taken in teen boys for the past 10 years, many from homes where drugs were common.

Some are in denial and want to go home, others don’t want anything to do with their parents after the stress of absentee parents and caring for younger siblings, Jones said.

Some addicted parents seem as if they’d sell their souls for drugs, said Jones, 58, who left a corporate job to focus on full-time foster parenting.

“We’re living in a whole different type of world now. And we need to protect our children,” she said.

Other states hit hard by opioids report similar trends. Kentucky has about 8,600 children in out-of-home care, including foster care, a number that has risen in recent years and appears to be attributable to the drug epidemic, according to the Kentucky Youth Advocates advocacy group.

In New Hampshire, child removal numbers jumped from 312 in 2014 to 547 last year, with nearly two in every three cases in 2016 involving parental drug or substance abuse, according to the state’s Health and Human Services Department.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

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