Clark County is one of eight Ohio counties hard hit by the opioid crisis that have been chosen to participate in a pilot program to recruit more relatives and foster families to care for children in need.
The program is part of a $1 million statewide grant announced by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office in August, designed to lessen the strain placed on children’s service agencies in Ohio. The money will pay for one full-time staff member in each county who will be responsible for finding and recruiting relatives or foster families to care for children in need. It will be administered by the Waiting Child Fund, a nonprofit with expertise in foster care family search and engagement.
Clark County currently has more than 210 children in its foster care program, said Pam Meermans, deputy director of the Family & Children Services Division for Clark County Department of Job & Family Services, including 118 in kinship care and 94 children in foster care.
“Ohio still has a great need for families to help children in foster care. These can be biological family members or those who feel called to serve children in need,” Attorney General Mike DeWine said.
The project’s model, 30 Days to Family, originated in Missouri and has been replicated elsewhere, Meermans said. It targets child who are just entering or re-entering foster care, she said.
“The projects identifies children we couldn’t find kin for and are now in foster care,” Meermans said.
The Clark County division is expected to be trained for the program later this month, she said. The dedicated staff member will have a small number of cases but will dig deep into a child’s extended family to identify someone who might be able to care for them — either within or outside of the community — to remove the child from foster care, Meermans said.
“It’s a really high level of review,” she said. “There’s a lot more detail about it. We’re really excited to be a part of this.”
About 1,000 more children are currently in foster care statewide compared to 2016, according to an analysis by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio. On July 1, 2013, 12,654 children were in agency custody statewide. That number surpassed 15,000 in September of 2017, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
“Many of these kids watched their parents overdose or die,” said Angela Sausser, PCSAO executive director. “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.”
Parents of half of all children taken into custody in 2015 used drugs, the study found.
“It’s a statewide need,” Meermans said.
If the drug epidemic continues at its current rate, the number of Ohio children in foster care could reach more than 20,000 by 2020 and increase costs dramatically, requiring an additional $175 million within three years for child placement costs, according to state and PCSAO calculations.
New Carlisle resident Janet Woosley, 46, currently has custody of her 14-month-old granddaughter and is also caring for newborn granddaughter. Both children tested positive for drugs at birth, Woosley said.
“They come with some challenges,” she said. “Each day is a very challenging experience at times.”
Without kinship care in place, Child Protective Services was going to place both of the children with foster parents, she said. Woosley and her husband — who operate a restaurant in Hilton Head, N.C. — have 10 children, she said. At 46, Woosley wasn’t expecting to take care of her young grandchildren.
“At least the kids are safe, that’s what’s most important,” Woosley said. “In this situation, it was so much better for them to be in the care of family.”
For some families, the cycle can last for years as parents make strides toward reunification with children and then have a setback, Woosley said. She wants lawmakers to take a look at the laws currently in place, she said, but understands it can be difficult.
“(Parents) will make one step toward reunification and then the amount of time they have to re-unify with their child just gets expanded,” Woosley said. “At some point, we have to say, ‘This is what’s best for the kids.’ It’s a fine line.”
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