Monday, April 10, 2017

Opioid problem creates spike in foster care

LISBON — The cost of Columbiana County’s foster care program increased by nearly 40 percent between 2015 and 2016, with the growing opioid problem largely to blame.

That was the message delivered when Columbiana County Department of Job and Family Services Director Eileen Dray-Bardon met this week with county commissioners to ask they adopt a proclamation declaring April Child Abuse Prevention Month.

As part of her presentation, Dray-Bardon provided commissioners with some statistics on the foster care program, which is run by the Children Services division of the JFS. According to the report, the number of children placed in foster care increased by 22 percent over the past year, from an average of 67 per month in 2015 to 82 last year.

Dray-Bardon pointed out that the number of children placed in foster care, after remaining relatively stable in recent years, began to steadily increase in 2016 and the trend has continued into this year. The number for February was 100, which is the first time in eight years foster care exceeded the century mark.

Dray-Bardon and Children Services administrator Rachel Ketterman attributed the increase to the growing number of neglect cases involving parents unwilling or unable to care for their children because of their opioid addiction. Of the 16 new foster care cases this year, nine are due to drug abuse.

“It’s hit us right here in good old Columbiana County,” Dray-Bardon said.

In many instances, children in foster care are placed with relatives, but all receive compensation for assuming responsibility, and not surprisingly, those costs have increased in recent years. According to the JFS, foster care spending skyrocketed by 39.6 percent, from $1.89 million in 2015 to $2.65 million last year.

A Supervised Child Visitation Services Seattle levy passed by voters years ago generates $900,000 annually, all of which goes to pay for foster care. The JFS received a little over $1 million in direct federal reimbursement for foster care, with the remaining $1.55 million coming from the JFS’ annual allocation of federal and state public assistance dollars.

While not a problem for now, it could be if the trend continues. “When foster care numbers were low … we had a bit of a (financial) cushion, but now that is starting to go away,” Dray-Bardon said, adding their association has been lobbying the state legislature for additional funding to address the problem.

This is just the latest example of how the opioid problem is taking more public assistance dollars. Last June, the JFS expanded its gasoline voucher program due in part to the increasing number of grandparents who have legal custody of their grandchildren because the parents are non-functioning drug addicts. This is for those grandparents who travel to Akron Children’s Hospital because their infant grandchildren are being treated after having been born addicted to drugs because the mother continued to use opioids while pregnant.

Two months ago, the JFS contracted with the Community Action Agency to help provide supervised child visitation services because Children Services does not have enough staff to adequately do the job because of the increase in foster care cases, as more children are removed by the courts from their drug-addled parents.

“This is costing government everywhere,” noted Commissioner Jim Hoppel.

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