The number of children in foster care in Ohio is growing, and parental drug abuse increasingly is cited as why children are removed from their homes, according to state data.
In the last two years, foster children whose removal primarily was attributed to parental drug use has increased by 31 percent. And the actual number of child removals related to drug abuse is believed to be much higher than the state’s data.
Typically, between 62 and 85 percent of children in foster care have been exposed to substance abuse in their home, said Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board for Montgomery County.
And the state’s deadly heroin epidemic undoubtedly is exposing many children to unhealthy conditions.
Addicted parents often are too busy getting high or trying to score drugs to meet the physical and emotional needs of their offspring, experts said. Children of addicts can end up malnourished, physically abused and traumatized.
“Think about what happens to families: Marriages break up, families find themselves destitute financially, there is no food on the table and they end up getting evicted,” said Jones-Kelley, who for 12 years was the executive director of the Montgomery County Children Services. “Once your brain is addicted, it’s hard to see all of the fallout.”
Children are removed from their homes and placed in temporary foster care when their living situations are deemed unsafe by child protective services workers.
Last year, about 13,054 children were in Ohio’s foster care system, which was up 2 percent from 2013 and 5 percent from 2012, according to data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Officials said drug abuse is fueling some of the increase in the foster child population.
Last year, there were 1,580 foster children who were removed from their homes primarily because of parental drug abuse, the state data show. That was 374 children more than in 2012.
Last year, about one-quarter of foster children in Greene and Warren counties were removed from their homes primarily because of parental drug use, the state’s data show. Statewide, about 12 percent of foster care admissions fell into this category.
Substance abuse can lead to neglect, unsafe living conditions, a lack of supervision, domestic violence and physical abuse, Beth Rubin, the director of the Greene County Department of Job and Family Services.
“We have seen an increase in cases that involve drug (and) alcohol abuse,” she said. But a “case is rarely solely about drug (and) alcohol abuse, as many factors typically coincide to bring our attention to a situation.”
And the actual number of foster care admissions related to parental drug abuse undoubtedly is higher than the state’s numbers.
Last year, less than 1 percent of children in foster care in Montgomery County were listed as being removed from their homes because of parental drug abuse.
But that is clearly not accurate and the actual removals owing to drug abuse is much higher, said Kevin Lavoie, spokesman with Montgomery County Job and Family Services.
Children services case workers have discretion when listing the primary reason of a removal, said Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
That means caseworkers may mark neglect or abuse as the primary cause when really the unsafe living conditions directly stem from drug abuse.
Selecting one reason for removal instead of another does not impact the assistance provided by caseworkers, Lavoie said.
“The reason given doesn’t have a bearing on how we work with an individual or family going forward,” he said.
Child welfare workers have always dealt with drug abuse. But the heroin crisis has been a nightmare for many families.
In 2013, 8.9 percent of the child protective cases opened statewide involved heroin use, according to the most recent data. The number of heroin-related child protective cases increased by more than 80 percent from to 2010.
Addicts as parents
On Sept. 24, Dayton police responded to a home on the 1300 block of Arbor Avenue for a drug overdose reported by neighbors. Officers found a 24-year-old woman who was turning blue and barely breathing inside a bathroom.
Officers administered Naloxone to her nose, and she immediately began breathing normally and color returned to her skin.
But there was a 2-year-old boy in the home, sitting on the couch, watching TV.
Police told the woman that if her neighbors had not found her, the child might have died since he could not take care of himself. She was later charged with child endangering.
A month after that, 35-year-old Melissa Banister was arrested after shooting up heroin in a Dairy Queen bathroom in Vandalia. With her was her 3-year-old daughter, Chloe Banister.
Police were called to the restaurant because Banister yelled and cursed at her daughter. Banister told police she and Chloe were staying with a heroin addict.
Children services launched an investigation, and the daughter was put in the care of relatives. But then Chloe was unlawfully taken by her biological father. Police later located the father and rescued Chloe. He was convicted of aggravated trespassing.
Some children will lose their parents to fatal overdoses. Others will lose their parents to the criminal justice system.
Still others will have to live with foster or adopted parents for the rest of their lives. Some children will be injured by their parents because some addicts are abusive and violent, said Jones-Kelley.
Parents who are high may not pay close attention to where they left their drugs, and children could find the substances and deliberately or accidentally ingest them, said Jones-Kelley.
Children of drug abusers will not receive the attention, affection, support and care they need to thrive, experts said.
“The kids aren’t getting meals, they aren’t getting to places on time like to school or doctors,” Jones-Kelley said. “And one of the really unfortunate phenomena that occurs is that the children take on the parenting roles.”