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Heroin's young victims: More children in foster care due to heroin epidemic

Heroin's young victims: More children in foster care due to heroin epidemic

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - More children are being removed from their homes in Ohio than ever before.

The numbers have risen by nearly 20 percent since 2009. That translates to about two thousand more children in protective custody on any given day. There’s new evidence that Ohio's heroin epidemic has a lot to do with it. Some people on the front line of child welfare want to know why the state isn't putting more resources into helping those children.

Sarah Beal's son was four years old when child protective services placed him with her and her husband. It was his sixth foster home. Taken from parents who were drug abusers, her son had moved through several different foster homes because of his aggressive behavior.

“There had been lots of domestic violence disputes between his mother and her husband. He didn't know how to deal with his own aggression, so he displayed what was modeled for him,” said Beal.

Thousands of children across Ohio are facing unprecedented challenges because of Ohio's heroin epidemic.

“There's no food in the home, the home becomes deplorable, kids aren't going to school. We're seeing children being trafficked for sex or being abused with people coming in and out of the home,” said Director of Hamilton County Job and Family Services Moira Weir.

Weir says her workers are dealing with very difficult cases as they carry bigger caseloads than ever before. Weir added, “The things that scare me is not having enough services to meet the needs of our families.”

Dr. Daniel Nelson has been a physician for about 30 years and says doctors have not seen anything else come through and hurt people like the heroin epidemic has. Dr. Nelson is a medical director at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. He works with children who've been abused and neglected by addicted parents.

“If you've seen your parents hit each other, if you've been hit, sex abused, you don't know where to turn, what's safe, what's not safe, so they end up with post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD,” said Nelson.

Adding insult to injury, many are moved from one foster home to another, often lingering in foster care longer than they should. Some are never being reunited with parents.

“The needs of these kids are extreme,” said Angela Sausser, Executive Director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio.

Social workers across Ohio have seen a big jump in the number of children being taken into protective custody because of parental drug addiction. She calls it a significant impact.

“We're really in crisis here,” said Sausser.

Sausser and the PSCAO commissioned a study to pinpoint heroin's impact on children. It shows half of the Ohio children taken into custody had a parent who used drugs. Nearly 30 percent had a parent who was using opiates including heroin when a child was removed from the home. These numbers have been steadily rising since 2010. While the number of children in state custody has been rising, money to help has been falling, the Children's Services Association says by 17 percent in the last eight years. Ohio is dead last in the nation in child protection spending.

“Our thought is we have not received any funding related to this opioid epidemic,” said Sausser.

Senator Cecil Thomas of Hamilton County says the state budget making its way through the Ohio legislature includes no new money for child protective services.

“This is something that is not being discussed. I think it's critical that we not take a blind eye to the fact that there's a tremendous amount of children who aren't getting the care they need when the family falls apart because of drug addiction,” said Thomas.

He believes the state needs to earmark dollars to attract federal matching funds, so he'll propose an amendment to the state budget.

“I want every child in the community to know they're safe,” said Hamilton County's Moira Weir, but she says it gets tougher to do every year.

She points out the county levy for Job and Family Services hasn't increased in more than 20 years. Meantime, the number of children in protective custody here recently hit the two-thousand mark, an all-time high.

“We really need to provide services to foster parents, birth parents, relatives as they're caring for these children to help them kind of heal,” said Weir.

Sarah Beal's son found healing in the Children's Hospital Therapeutic Interagency Preschool. TIP gets funding from several agencies to help children from birth through age five.

“He's really fun and energetic and high spirited,” said Beal.

Her little boy is 8 now, and a permanent part of Beal’s family.

“By the time he was available for adoption, we couldn't imagine our lives without him.”

She hopes more people will make the choice to open their minds and their homes to foster care.

Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus sent a letter this week to the House Finance Committee in Columbus. She is asking the legislature for an additional 20-million dollars in additional child welfare money statewide. Her letter also asks for funding to recruit foster and adoptive parents. The need is especially great for parents who will take sibling sets and teenagers.

CLICK HERE for a list of Children's Public Service agencies by county.

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