Login | March 19, 2019

Report: Children services challenged by ongoing opioid crisis

KEITH ARNOLD
Special to the Legal News

Published: January 7, 2019

The association representing public children services agencies throughout Ohio made a plea last week for public support for a reform plan centered on a continuum of care for children affected by the ongoing opioid crisis ravaging the Buckeye State.

Even as the opioid epidemic appears to be relenting in some parts of the state, children of parents who struggle with addiction and youth with complex, challenging needs continue to put pressure on the state's children services system, according to the report compiled by Public Children Services Association of Ohio.

The number of children in custody peaked July 1 at 16,154, association officials reported. The number is 3,500 more children than five years ago.

The 28 percent increase has resulted in a tsunami effect on available and appropriate foster care placements, on caseloads, on agency budgets and on the chances that these children find a permanent home, PCSAO Executive Director Angela Sausser said. Additionally, agencies have recorded a 92 percent increase in the number of children in county children services agency custody placed with family members during the five-year period.

"These grandparents, extended family and close friends often struggle to pay childcare and other costs for the children in their home," Sausser said. "Because children's long-term outcomes are better when they are placed with kin instead of with strangers in foster care, Ohio cannot afford to neglect the needs of these caregivers."

Nor can county children services agencies afford the cost of children in foster care, she added.

"The cost of foster and residential facility placements totaled almost $370 million in 2018 - an increase of almost $95 million in five years - and those costs are projected to increase by at least another $44 million by 2020. This is just for room and board, not services, not staffing," Sausser said. "Because Ohio relies more heavily than any other state on local dollars, more than half of that increase will be borne by local resources, and counties are already underwater.

"This year we saw the biggest uptick in new and replacement children services levies on the ballot in recent history, but the local tax base is already overburdened."

Cost is not limited to dollars spent to place children in foster care. Rather it extends to the emotional toll on caseworkers on the front lines of the opioid epidemic every day.

"We were shocked to learn that more than half of our children services workers have levels of secondary traumatic stress high enough to meet the diagnostic threshold for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," Sausser added.

The association has launched a reform plan in response to the crisis to reduce the number of children coming into care, the length of time they stay in care, the overuse of residential care and the cost to taxpayers.

The plan would reform the system by building a strong continuum of care for affected children.

A true continuum of care must begin with a commitment that children should be raised in families, the association noted.

Services would begin before children are removed from their homes through prevention, diversion and crisis services.

For children removed and who cannot be placed with family, high-quality foster placements - including treatment foster homes and short-term residential placements - would be made available as close to home as possible.

Then, after children return home, agency support would continue to prevent reentry and ensure sustained permanency.

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