Children in harm’s way with the scourge of drugs

With all the extensive press coverage of the opioid epidemic on the local, state and national levels, one aspect of this deadly scourge unfortunately has escaped public notice: the sharp increase in the number of children needing care as a result of addicted parents.

This situation is especially grim in Ohio, which leads the nation in opioid deaths. Late last year, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation released a state-by-state report that contained some jarring statistics: One in nine heroin deaths in the nation occurred in Ohio, the most nationally; one in 14 deaths in the nation from synthetic opioids occurred in the state, also the nation’s leader.

As for the overall death count, the Kaiser Foundation reported that Ohio had 2,106 opioid overdoses in 2014, representing 7.4 percent of the 28,647 nationwide. California ranked second, and New York was third.

To further drive home the point, the Ohio Department of Health recently released new data showing that one Ohioan now dies every three hours as a result of heroin or opiate abuse. The rate in all probability will accelerate.

As local and state law enforcement, health and social service agencies try to deal with this growing epidemic, the children of addicted parents are in harm’s way. Caring for them is not cheap.

According to the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, the number of Ohio children in foster care as of July 1 of each year has risen from 12,383 to 13,719 over those six years.

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

During a recent meeting with The Vindicator’s Editorial Board, Angela Sausser, the association’s executive director, and Scott Britton, the assistant director, were candid in their appraisal of what’s in store for the state if more money isn’t forthcoming to help meet the rising costs of caring for the children of addicted parents.

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

Shocking statistic

To bolster her argument, here’s a shocking statistic: 85 percent of opiate addicts relapse within one year of their recovery.

As for the effects on children, the average duration of foster care in Ohio has risen from 202 days in 2010 to 240 days in 2016.

Britton, the deputy director of PCSAO, framed the issue in language that is easy to comprehend: “Children really are the invisible victims of this epidemic.”

Thus the question: What do the children services agencies need to provide the care the innocent victims of this deadly scourge desperately deserve?

The answer is obvious to those who are on the front lines of the battle to save the “invisible victims” of the epidemic: Money.

Sausser told The Vindicator that the Public Children Services Association of Ohio is seeking a $30 million increase in the $90 million the state provides for child-welfare programs.

It is noteworthy the funding from Columbus has not increased in several years and that Gov. John R. Kasich’s biennial budget blueprint maintains the status quo.

Ohio ranks fifth in the nation in total child welfare spending, said Jon Keeling, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Keeling pointed out the Ohio system “has long been designed to be primarily funded and administered at the county level.”

But the system the state official hails was designed to address the everyday needs of children at risk. It is not equipped to deal with the opioid epidemic sweeping the state and the nation.

Therefore, we urge Gov. Kasich and the Republican majority in the Ohio General Assembly to loosen the state’s purse strings and provide the relatively small increase in funding to assist those who are providing a safe haven for the “invisible victims” of this deadly scourge.

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