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Forgotten victims: Foster care overwhelmed by heroin epidemic

FORT MITCHELL, Ky. (Joe Webb) -- Northern Kentucky's heroin epidemic is overwhelming police, prosecutors, treatment providers and the jails.
             
But there's a forgotten victim of the heroin plague, the children of addicts.  When parents overdose or go to jail, what happens to the children?

The DCCH Center for Children and Families, the old Diocesan orphanage, is just one of about a dozen agencies that place kids who are removed from their parents' homes.  Five years ago, they got about one referral a day, 20-30 a month.  In April, they got 174 referrals which is nearly a six  a day.  They blame heroin and there's no place to  keep them.
 
Just three days ago, Joseph Gunter and Shalah Robinson were locked up for selling heroin to undercover agents in Fort Wright.  They had Gunter's  6 and 8-year-old daughters in the car with them.  The girls were placed with a relative because dad's locked up.  Ron Bertsch sees this sort of thing every day.  He runs DCCH's foster care and adoption placement.  He knows how tough it is to place drug-displaced kids.  He uses the example of a 9-year-old girl to make his point.

"Watched her mother OD with heroin and was placed with a relative. There were other kids in the home.  It was only within a few short months that mother figure in that household also overdosed," Ron Bertsch said.
  
DCCH has only 40 residential beds.  They're full.  Referrals for residential and foster placement are up 65% since 2012.  Eight of 10 are from families with drug problems.  The last seven placements were all directly related to heroin.

Sister Jean Marie Hoffman, DCCH Executive Director, said, "The children we serve are the innocent victims of the heroin epidemic.  Many of them have been born with the substance abuse in their system."
      
Often making them behavior problems as well as orphans.  At DCCH,  and other state and private agencies, the spirit is willing.  But,

"I know that we're all overwhelmed and we all get these same referrals and we're all trying to figure out how we can find a home that would take a particular child," Hoffman said.
   
The system always needs qualified foster families.  Monday, the need is critical.  Bertsch says some kids are being placed to already full foster homes to sleep on a couch or floor.  The worst case scenario is they will have to sit in a state social worker's office until a bed can be found.

Since DCCH started foster care placement in 1999, they averaged 20-30 a month until 2011.  It started creeping up as heroin started to become a bigger problem.  Currently there are about 1,100 children in northern Kentucky placed in homes by the courts and a lot waiting.      
     
CLICK HERE for a link to the DCCH website.

Hamilton County's Jobs and Family Services has also seen a heroin-related increase in cases.  Spokesman Brian Gregg says in the last couple of years they've witnessed a significant increase in placements directly tied to the drug.
  


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