Rx to better help children harmed by opioid scourge

Good news and bad news flowed directly out of Columbus this week about the war on opiate abuse and its destructive and anguishing impact on children and families.

The good news is that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has launched a promising multimillion-dollar program to identify, assist and treat families devastated by the grip of heroin, fentanyl and other painkiller opiates.

The bad news is that the Mahoning Valley and other areas of the state will not enjoy one drop of the potential rewards of that initiative because the 2 Ω-year project will be isolated to 14 southern Ohio counties. The silent and invisible victims of the opiate epidemic in the rest of the state sadly will be left behind.

DeWine on Wednesday unveiled the pilot program titled START – Sobriety, Treatment And Reducing Trauma. The $3.5 million intervention program will provide specialized victim services to children who have suffered harm due to parental drug abuse. The program also will provide drug treatment for parents.

As the attorney general himself put it, “Children with a parent or parents addicted to drugs tend to stay in foster care longer, and they enter foster care having experienced significant trauma. While mom and dad are high, these kids may go days without food or supervision.”

Ohio START will bring together child protective services, peer mentors, the courts, and behavioral health and treatment providers to work closely with families whose children have been abused or neglected due to parental addiction in the 14 rural counties.

That winning combination is modeled after a similar program in Kentucky that resulted in about half as many children returning to foster care due to parental addiction. In addition, parents in the program logged twice the rate of full recovery.

The attorney general and his staff merit commendation for creating the much needed program. After all, according to the Public Children Services Association of Ohio – a consortium of county children services agencies – about 50 percent of children referred to foster care in 2015 were placed due to abuse and neglect associated with parental drug use. That percentage is even higher at 58 percent in Trumbull County.


As such, however, we are disappointed that the potential good START will provide will be limited to such a small sliver of the state.

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, concurs. Schiavoni, a 2018 candidate for Ohio governor, told our broadcast partner 21 WFMJ-TV, “If you’re going to do a program like this, I think it’s unfair to highlight 14 counties and only help the children and the families in those particular geographic areas.”

We concur and hope that Schiavoni and other legislative leaders in the Ohio General Assembly will work with the attorney general’s office to explore potential protocols and funding mechanisms to expand the program to the Mahoning Valley and all other areas of the state. Clearly, the need is great.

As we editorialized earlier this month, the increasing number of Ohio children in custody and the increased complexity of their needs have raised foster placement costs from $275 million in 2013 to $321 million in 2016. At the same time, state funding for children’s services agencies has remained static.

According to PCSAO, Gov. John Kasich’s two-year budget proposal for county children’s services agencies is flat at about $45 million annually even though Ohio contributes less in percentage terms to its children’s services agencies than any other state in the nation. The association is seeking an additional $30 million in funding for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

That is a reasonable request, and we today double-down on our plea to members of the governor’s office, Department of Job and Family Services officials and state legislative leaders to meet and work diligently to correct that shortfall in the budget.

We also hope that in those discussions, the idea of expanding the START program to all counties of the state gets a full and robust hearing. Expanding the pilot program and raising state funding for children’s services agencies statewide hold promise to give children, the silent and invisible victims of parental opiate abuse, a brighter pathway out of the dark.

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