Opioid epidemic drives increased need for foster homes

Cary Ashby • Oct 10, 2017 at 12:00 PM

Huron County welfare workers have determined that children under their care often have drug-addicted parents who are unable to take care of their kids’ mental and physical needs.

“Parents are so consumed with their drug addiction that their child’s needs are secondary or in some cases even unimportant,” said Jill Nolan, director of the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services.

When children need to be taken from their homes, JFS works to connect them with relatives or even friends of relatives. These are called kinship placements. 

“Strong efforts (are) made by JFS to place children in care with relatives or family members with the intent to unify them with their parents once (the) home is safe. Some parents receive and complete substance abuse treatment and fight for children to return home while others find it too difficult to battle their addiction to gain custody of their children,” Nolan said.

Recently, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine made a personal appeal to for Ohioans to step forward to provide foster care for the children of drug addicts. 

“Today I want to issue a call to Ohioans who may be interested in being a foster parent," DeWine said, noting there are 15,000 children in Ohio in foster care and only 7,200 foster families to take care of them. "I ask them to make that leap and open their home to a kid or kids who could use a stable, loving home."

The Huron County JFS director and children services administrator Rene King stressed that reunifying children with their parents “is always the goal.”

“We don’t want children to be in foster care,” Nolan added.

Since Jan. 1, the agency has helped 74 children with kinship placements.

“They are out of their primary homes,” said King, who noted all those placements were due to substance abuse.

JFS recently had 48 children receiving kinship permanency incentive payments (KPIP) for caring for the children of a relative or friend.

“The KPIP homes must meet a 300-percent federal poverty level to be eligible for KPIP payments,” Nolan said.

From April through June, out of 129 new reported cases of child abuse or neglect, JFS records indicate there was drug involvement in 31 of them and 13 were confirmed to be related specifically to heroin.

“Sometimes we don’t know about the drug until later in the case,” King said. “Heroin is on the rise in the state. … Opioids and prescription drugs are very prevalent.”

In that same three-month period, JFS received 477 referrals of suspected child abuse or neglect and workers assessed and/or investigated 129 new reports of child abuse or neglect. 

“We currently have 11 (foster) children in our custody,” King said. “Some have been in a year; some are relatively new. Most of our foster homes have a foster (child) to adopt.”

Nolan said having 11 children in foster care is “far less than many Ohio counties of our size.”

“Ohio reported 9,900 children were in foster care in 2016 and nearly half of those taken into custody had a parent using drugs. In many cases the extended family are also addicted to drugs making it challenging to place children with relatives,” the JFS director added.

When it comes to seeing drug use in a family, JFS administrators said it’s common to discover it is a generational issue. King said case workers have the names of children’s sober relatives who can direct them to — or away from — certain family members who might be willing to care for the displaced children.

“Families become a huge resource,” the children services administrator added. “When we are in a home we do a family tree.”

Since the goal is to reunite children with their parents, Nolan said JFS workers want to make sure the kids are going into a healthy, stable home.

“It’s not unusual to call a foster home at 2 in the morning,” she added.

“The drug epidemic is a battle worth fighting, but a war difficult to win. Huron County and Ohio, at large, need more foster homes. HCDJFS currently has 10 actively certified foster homes and four foster homes pending certification. Counties request use of foster homes from other counties if they do not have enough foster homes for the children in DJFS care,” Nolan said.

One of the challenges facing JFS is placing siblings together in the same home.

“It is challenging to find (the) placement of sibling groups because some foster homes have room for only one child or choose not to accept multiple children at one time for many valid reasons. Children can lose daily contact with their siblings. Children from substance abuse homes many times suffer from behavioral and emotional issues making it more difficult to find foster homes that are able to handle the needs of these children,” Nolan said.

If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, contact the Huron County JFS at 419-668-8126.

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