Drug abuse sending more children into state custody

The twin ravages of the Great Recession and a persistent opioid epidemic have led to an 11 percent increase in the number of children in state custody on any given day since 2010, costing the state millions more and leaving caseworkers overwhelmed, according to a new study released today. 

The increase means an additional 1,336 Ohio children were living away from their homes in 2016 compared to just six years earlier, the Public Children Services Association of Ohio (PCSAO) reported in its 13th biennial factbook. More than 13,500 children were in protective custody at any given time during 2016.

» SPECIAL REPORT: High staff turnover, burnout puts child welfare system in crisis 

Five key findings from the report:

Opioid epidemic taking major toll on children: A PCSAO survey showed parental drug use factored into half of all the children taken into custody in 2015, almost 30 percent of those directly related to the opioid epidemic. Because parents addicted to opioids often relapse, the length of time children stay in temporary custody is up 19 percent, from 202 to 240 days, over four years.

» RELATED: More kids removed from homes for parental drug abuse

Costs addressing child neglect rising: The trauma children experienced as a result of neglect is increasingly expensive to remedy. Agencies spent $275 million in total placement costs in 2013; by 2016, costs had increased 20 percent to $331 million. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services estimates that $138 million of these costs were for substance abuse-related cases.

» RELATED: 13-year-old overdose victim’s home on Children Services radar 

» RELATED: Across Ohio, children are calling 911 to report overdoses   

High caseworker turnover: Due to demands of the job and decreasing satisfaction resulting from the difficulty reunifying children with their families, caseworker turnover is high. In state fiscal year 2016, 1 in 4 caseworkers left their position, some to promotion or retirement, but 1 in 7 left during the year with no performance concerns by the employer.

» SPECIAL REPORT: High staff turnover, burnout puts child welfare system in crisis   

Montgomery County Children Services caseworker Janine Elders visits children in custody currently receiving foster care by Patricia Boring. Elders, with Children Services 22 years, now works with foster parents but spent her first years on the job working directly with families in crisis. She said she was able to cope that long by not taking work home with her. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer

Children in custody disproportionate to population: Of children in custody, 31 percent are African American, though black children make up only 15 percent of Ohio’s child population. The largest share, 57 percent, are white. Another 12 percent are multiracial, meaning 43 percent of children in custody are of a race other than white. Overall, whites make up 77 percent of Ohio’s child population.  

Heavy reliance on local funding: Ohio ranks 15th in total spending on child protection, but no other state relies as heavily on local communities to shoulder the majority of children services costs, according to the report. Of each dollar spent on children services in Ohio in 2016, state dollars accounted for 10 cents, of which only half is made available to county agencies. Local communities picked up 52 cents either through property tax levies or county general revenue funds disbursed by county commissions.

» RELATED: Opioid crisis persists despite funding burst

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