Attorney General awards $3.5 million to support response to opioid epidemic
At a press conference today, Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a $3.5 million grant to PCSAO to help children services agencies in 14 southern Ohio counties combat the opioid epidemic.
UPDATE: Four new counties were added to the pilot April 18. Learn more.
The two-and-a-half-year grant is being supplemented with $75,000 from Casey Family Programs and will pilot a research-informed model for improving child safety, permanency and well-being when parents are addicted to drugs, particularly opioids.
Called Ohio START (Sobriety Treatment and Reducing Trauma), the program gives children services agencies the resources to partner closely with behavioral health providers and juvenile courts to form teams that will provide necessary supports to addicted parents and their children. The pilot will study how effective these teams can be in the parents’ recovery by providing timely, accessible trauma-informed treatment, intensive case management services, and recovery supports with certified peer specialists. Given similar experience in Kentucky, families engaged with Ohio START should experience less trauma and better child well-being outcomes. The children of these addicted parents will have the opportunity to live safely at home or return to their families sooner.
Ohio’s children services agencies have been challenged with the financial and emotional stress from the opiate epidemic, without any additional state resources to support rising caseloads or skyrocketing placement costs. This grant creates an opportunity for a new best practice model designed to lead to better outcomes for children and families impacted by opiates and other drugs.
PCSAO Executive Director Angela Sausser commended Attorney General DeWine and Casey Family Programs for being the first to support such a significant effort aimed at children, the invisible victims of the epidemic. “This is not surprising,” Sausser said, “given that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has been a long-standing friend of children services by supporting positive legislation in the U.S. Senate focused on achieving permanency sooner for children as well as a five-year grant to create Ohio Reach, which continues today to provide post-secondary educational supports for former foster youth on Ohio’s college campuses.”
The source of the funds is the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), and in his remarks, DeWine pointed out that, while such use of these funds may be unusual, his determination to respond to the opioid epidemic in a substantive way led him and his staff to look beyond traditional definitions of victimization to view children and often their parents, whose addiction may stem from childhood abuse or domestic violence, as victims of this serious epidemic.
Counties covered by the grant include Athens, Clermont, Clinton, Fairfield, Fayette, Gallia, Highland, Hocking, Jackson, Perry, Pickaway, Pike, Ross and Vinton. The Ohio State University College of Social Work and Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs will evaluate the program’s effectiveness.
Gallia County Children Services Director Russ Moore provided a snapshot of children in his agency’s custody during the briefing, stating that 17 of 18 were there because of their parents’ opioid abuse, including five infants born addicted.