Children Services seeks levy replacement amid increasing need for services

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Randall Muth, Mahoning County Children Services executive director, said the opioid crisis is leading to an increased demand for all services the agency offers.

“Children are the invisible victims of this crisis,” he said.

The growing need comes as a five-year, 0.5-mill levy that raises about $2 million annually for Children Services is set to expire at the end of this year. The levy dates back to 1983, and voters have passed the levy every five years since then. It costs Mahoning County Residents $0.5 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The Mahoning County commissioners voted Thursday to put the replacement levy on the ballot this fall, which will bring the 0.5 mills up to current property valuation.

The opioid crisis, Muth explained, is affecting the way the agency does business: What happens when heroin takes over parents’ lives and they can’t provide care for their children?

Children Services aims to protect kids, intervene to keep them with their families and, as a last resort, tries to place children in permanent homes. The bulk of their services involves keeping children in their homes.

“Heroin changes that,” Muth said. “It’s almost never safe for kids to remain in the home.” With the opiate crisis, Muth said the agency is seeing an increased number of assessments. Those assessments are requiring the agency to provide services more frequently, and the children are less likely to return home to live with their parents in the future.

“We’re not seeing the success rates we see with other things like depression,” Muth said.

Placement costs are growing dramatically, he said.

Muth added that out of 50 states, Ohio spends the smallest portion of its budget on child welfare spending.

The state claims that is because Ohio is also one of nine states that manages children services at the county level – which suggests the funding should come from the county, not the state – but Muth said Ohio is still ninth in budgeting for child welfare among those states.

Ohio also feels a greater impact from the opioid crisis than many other states. Ohio was fourth in overdoses per capita in 2015. Only West Vriginia, New Hampshire and Kentucky had more.

In a picture that made national news last year, a couple in East Liverpool in Columbiana County passed out in an SUV after overdosing on heroin. Their grandchild sat in the back seat.

“That’s where we come in,” Muth said, using such cases as an example.

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