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One year later: Children services remains in severe crisis

Even as the opioid epidemic appears to be relenting in some parts of the state, children of parents struggling with addiction and youth with complex, challenging needs continue to put pressure on Ohio’s children services system, according to a new report PCSAO issued today.

The number of children in custody peaked at 16,154 on July 1, 2018 – 3,500 more children than five years ago. While more recent data suggest a plateau in the trend line, the 28 percent increase has had a tsunami effect on available and appropriate foster care placements, on caseloads, on agency budgets and ultimately on the chances that these children will celebrate the holidays in a permanent home, said Executive Director Angela Sausser.

In the wake of parents losing custody, family members often step in. Data show a 92 percent increase in the number of children in county children services agency custody placed with kin over the past five years. “These grandparents, extended family and close friends often struggle to pay child care and other costs for the children in their home,” Sausser said. “Because children’s long-term outcomes are better when they are placed with kin instead of with strangers in foster care, Ohio cannot afford to neglect the needs of these caregivers.”

Nor can county children services agencies afford the cost of children in foster care. “The cost of foster and residential facility placements totaled almost $370 million in 2018 – an increase of almost $95 million in five years – and those costs are projected to increase by at least another $44 million by 2020. This is just for room and board, not services, not staffing,” Sausser said. “Because Ohio relies more heavily than any other state on local dollars, more than half of that increase will be borne by local resources, and counties are already underwater. This year we saw the biggest uptick in new and replacement children services levies on the ballot in recent history, but the local tax base is already overburdened.”

The cost is not limited to dollars spent to place children in foster care but extends to the emotional toll on caseworkers on the front lines of the opioid epidemic every day. “We were shocked to learn that more than half of our children services workers have levels of secondary traumatic stress high enough to meet the diagnostic threshold for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Sausser added.

PCSAO has launched a reform plan to address this severe crisis that would reduce the number of children coming into care, the length of time they stay in care, the overuse of residential care and the cost to taxpayers. It is time to reform this system by building a strong continuum of care for children in this state.