Drug-Fueled Wave of Kids Taken from Homes Peaks as Ohio Plans Children Services Reforms
A wave of Ohio children removed from their homes for neglect or abuse appears to have peaked, but the state's children's services system remains in crisis, a new report shows.
That's partly because the number of kids rose so high that the decline is mild in comparison, and the system of care and services needs a change, according to the Public Children Services Association of Ohio.
The nonprofit group of children services' representatives in the state issued the report in December. It outlines the impact of a 28-percent increase in children in custody since 2013, calling it a "tsunami" in services and costs.
The association also offers a reform plan that would help keep children out of foster and emergency care, ultimately reducing costs of care and ill-effects on those kids.
The plan is expected to begin to go into effect this year.
The idea is for children's services agencies to provide a continuum of care that starts with far more in-home services for children at risk of being removed from their families.
“Too many children and youth are coming into foster care because they cannot get the services they need at home," said Angela Sausser, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy association.
"These young people may have severe mental illness, developmental and intellectual disabilities, and juvenile justice involvement, and whether there is abuse or neglect in their background or not, the family or a court places these children in agency custody so that they can get the services they need."
As their needs change, the children are often moved from place to place based on the services they require, Sausser said.
"We shouldn’t have to break up families just so young people can get the services and support they need," she said. "Families should be able to access these services at home or in their communities, when the crisis first arises, so that the child’s behaviors can be stabilized and the child never comes into foster care in the first place."
A nine-year-old girl holds up a new dress that she hopes to wear to her final adoption hearing. At right is Justine Harrison, Hamilton County Job & Family Services caseworker. The two have grown close as Harrison has seen her through a different foster homes, and a psychiatric hospital over the past couple years. She hopes her current foster home in rural Lawrence County in southeast Ohio will be the last. The family has already started adoption proceedings. The young girl lost her dad to an overdose. Her mom stills battles addiction. (Photo11: Liz Dufour/The Enquirer)
Here's a glance at some major points of the plan, which, Sausser said, will take years to fully implement:
Prevent children at risk of removal from coming into care with intensive home-based services.
When in care, have robust options for a professional foster care system, which also would reduce the time spent in care.
Provide ample after-care services and family support to prevent reentry after a child goes home, reducing costs to taxpayers.
Keep residential care stays short, high-quality and close to family.
The association has shared the plan with the governor-elect and hopes to begin to implement it this year. A new federal law, the Family First Prevention Services Act, could help move the reform agenda ahead. Sausser said Ohio will have a chance under the law to receive child welfare federal funding reimbursement for the first time to prevent children from coming into foster care.
Services that could be eligible for the new federal reimbursement include mental health and addiction treatment, in-home parenting skills-building and education. Historically, the money was only available to county children services agencies when kids were placed into foster care. Ohio is working on a plan to put Family First in action no later than October 2021, Sausser said.
A 9-year-old girl carries one of the large stuffed animals in the play area at St. Joseph's Orphanage emergency shelter in Anderson Township. The emergency shelter opened in January for children removed from home by Children Services. The children are closely supervised while playing and completing school lessons. (Photo11: Liz Dufour/The Enquirer)
Hamilton County Job and Family Services had a hand in the plan, with director Moira Weir on a subcommittee that developed it and engaging support from stakeholders for the reform.
The county agency had 1,875 children in its custody on Dec. 27, compared with 2,298 on the same day in 2017. But the numbers are still high, officials said.
Funding from a levy that Hamilton County voters passed in November, which will generate $38 million a year, will also aid kids in the county's Children's Services system.
“Our goal with the levy money is to provide community and family support that keeps children and families safely together,” Weir said.
The county agency will provide more intensive in-home services that could prevent children's removal from families, Weir said, adding, "If we have to temporarily remove a child for safety reasons, we want to provide more supportive services to kinship families ... as we work toward reunifying that family and keeping it together."
Hamilton County Children's Services already started more intensive home services to children and families. In July and August, the agency began contracts with the National Youth Advocate Program, St. Joseph Orphanage and Ohio Mentor, Weir said.
The groups provide crisis intervention, including diagnostic evaluation, individual and family therapy, nursing, medication and case management and more, she said.
"The levy money will let us expand on these services," Weir said. She expects to see some results in six months to a year.
The bedroom looks like any girl's, but make no mistake, this is a St. Joseph's Orphanage emergency shelter in Anderson Township. It's needed because of the 42-percent jump in children in the Hamilton County foster care system, much of it due to the opioid epidemic. Decorations are colorful. There are plenty of books to read and over-sized stuffed animals to hug. The young girl smiles at us and engages in conversation. She seems unaware that she's under constant supervision. We walk away wondering what her future holds. (Photo11: Liz Dufour, Liz Dufour/The Enquirer)
The new Ohio Public Children Services Association report also notes:
A 92-percent increase in five years in the number of children placed with relatives.
Children in custody peaked in July at 16,154, which is 3,500 more than five years earlier, in 2013.
Ohio's cost of foster and residential facility placements totaled almost $370 million in 2018 – an increase of almost $95 million in five years
If current conditions continue, Ohio can expect to have nearly 19,000 children in care by 2020, according to the report.
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