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Fueled by opioid epidemic, foster care numbers soar in Ohio

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A thousand more Ohio children will spend the holidays in foster care this season compared to last year, thanks to the opioid epidemic sweeping the state.

That somber news comes from a report released this week by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, a statewide membership organization for county children services agencies. If the rate at which children entering the foster care system continues, that number could double to 2,000 by next year, according to the organization.

“The number of children in need of county services as a result of the opiate epidemic is staggering,” said Suzanne Dulaney, executive director of the County Commissioners’ Association of Ohio.

“While we cannot give the children in the care of county government the immediate Christmas present they deserve — healthy and intact families — we can and must respond as a state and as local communities to address their needs,” she said. “More must be done to bring resources to the table for these children.”

“I would also add that we need to keep in mind the strain this crisis has placed on our children services staff and other county first responders,” she said. “The toll on them has been staggering as well.”

The cost of placing children in foster care in Ohio will surge by 67 percent to more than half a billion dollars a year, if entry rates continue at the current pace. Counties shoulder more than half the cost of paying for child protection in Ohio. Foster care placement costs alone have risen by an estimated $45 million since last year.

Ohio led the nation from 2002 to 2010 in 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 witnesses,” said Angela Sausser, executive director of the association.

The numbers tell the story: In July 2013, 12,654 children were in agency custody. Four years later, the number climbed to 15,145. This fall, the number rose to 15,500. If the rate continues, Ohio could see more than 20,000 children in foster care by 2020.

“Many of these kids watch 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.”

“Ohio needs a long-term solution to this crisis — and leadership to get us there before agency budgets collapse and our workforce jumps ship,” Sausser said. “We already have a lack of available foster homes in Ohio. With the projected increases, we will have children sleeping in county agency lobbies with no available foster family to take them in.”

See the full report from Public Children Services Association of Ohio here.

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