On July 1, 2013, 12,654 children in Ohio were in agency custody
A tsunami of opioid-affected children is flooding Ohio’s children services agencies, exploding county budgets and overwhelming available foster care resources.
According to a recent report by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio (PCSAO), 1,000 or more Ohio kids will spend the holidays in foster care this year compared with 2016. By the end of 2018, the number could be 2,000 more if the rate at which children are entering custody due to the opioid epidemic continues at its current pace, reported PCSAO, the statewide membership organization for county children services agencies.
According to PCSAO’s executive director, Angela Sausser, Ohio led the nation from 2002 to 2010 in safely 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 witnessed,” Sausser said.
The numbers suggest an alarming trend, she said.
On July 1, 2013, 12,654 children in Ohio were in agency custody. Four years later, that number had climbed to 15,145 kids. In October the number surpassed 15,500.
If entry rates continue at this pace, more than 20,000 Ohio kids will be in care on any given day by 2020, and the cost of placing them in foster homes and residential facilities, where the more traumatized children can get the behavioral health services they need, will surge by 67 percent to over half a billion dollars a year.
“We need help. We need substantially more state resources before we lose the ability to provide essential services to vulnerable children,” Sausser said.
The Legislature stepped in this year to provide more funding to beleaguered county children services agencies, adding $15 million to the $45 million that Ohio kicks in to match federal and local funds each year. But foster care placement costs alone have risen by an estimated $45 million since last year, and that doesn’t count staffing or other agency services.
“Placing abused and neglected children with kin leads to better long-term outcomes and is far less costly to government; But, it means that grandparents on fixed incomes and aunts with kids of their own must find a way to pay for food, clothes, child care and other expenses,” Sausser said.