Increase state child welfare spending, advocates urge

By Peter H. Milliken


Ohio’s county children services agencies need more state funding as they struggle to provide care for children of opioid-addicted parents, child welfare advocates say.

Fifty percent of the children these agencies took into custody statewide in 2015 came from homes with parental drug abuse, according to a survey of 74 Ohio children services agencies, which was conducted by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio.

With 58 percent, Trumbull County exceeded the state average.

The figure was 44 percent for Columbiana County.

Mahoning County Children Services did not participate in the association’s survey because Mahoning County didn’t compile this information until January 2016, said Randall Muth, Mahoning County CSB director.

Muth is chairman of the legislative committee of the association, which represents Ohio’s county child welfare agencies.

For 2016, Mahoning County’s percentage was slightly below 22 percent, Muth calculated, attributing that lower percentage here to immediate access to “high-quality substance abuse interventions.”

Twenty-eight percent of children taken into custody statewide in 2015 had parents using opiates, including heroin, at the time of their removal from their families.

The 2015 percentages were 33 percent for Trumbull County and 19 percent for Columbiana County.

“Children really are the invisible victims of this epidemic” of drug addiction, said Scott Britton, the association’s assistant director.

“We really do need the support of the state at this time, or we’re going to find ourselves in a very serious crisis,” said Angela Sausser, the association’s executive director. “If we don’t make an investment now in children, we, quite possibly, could lose an entire generation.”

The problem for child welfare agencies is compounded by the fact that 85 percent of opiate addicts relapse within one year of their recovery, PCSAO said.

Because of lengthy opiate addiction recovery times and the prevalence of relapses, the average duration of foster care in Ohio has risen from 202 days in 2010 to 240 days in 2016.

The number of Ohio children in foster care as of July 1 of each year has soared from 12,383 to 13,719 over those six years, the association said.

The increasing number of Ohio children in custody and the increased complexity of their needs has raised foster and other residential placement costs from $275 million in 2013 to $321 million in 2016, the association said.

Despite the increased demands on the child welfare system, Ohio ranks last among the 50 states in state share of children services spending, and would remain at that rank even if it doubled its spending for this purpose, PCSAO said.

Ohio’s share is 7 percent, with 40 percent being the national average in 2014, the association said.

“We have been trying to build the political will to come out of the cellar,” Muth said.

“I don’t think anybody would be proud of the fact that we’re last in the nation in any category, let alone protecting children,” he added.

“The fight against opiate abuse is one we take very seriously,” said Jon Keeling, communication director for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Ohio ranks fifth in the nation in total child welfare spending; and the Ohio system “has long been designed to be primarily funded and administered at the county level,” he said. Mahoning County Children Services has a $15.2 million annual operating budget. In 2016, 60.47 percent of its revenue came from local funds, including its real estate tax levies, 30.53 percent from the federal government and 9 percent from the state.

Ohio’s child welfare spending at the state level has been flat at about $90 million annually in recent years and would stay that way under Gov. John Kasich’s proposed 2018-19 budget.

Sausser said her association is proposing a $30 million increase to $120 million a year.

She said her association has been discussing ways to pay for that increase with state legislators.

“There is a rainy-day fund,” of the state, which totals more than $2 billion, she added.

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