Children traumatized as a result of their parents’ drug abuse are often the invisible victims of the opioid epidemic. They may have gone days without food or adequate supervision. They may have been abused. And they may have witnessed a parent inject drugs, overdose, or even die.
According to the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, 50 percent of the children placed in foster care in 2015 were there as a consequence of parental drug use. In the years since the opioid crisis erupted in Ohio, the number of children taken into agency custody has jumped 11 percent and their stays in foster care have lengthened by 19 percent.
Many child protective services (CPS) agencies–especially in rural areas–struggle to support both a climbing caseload and children who need a more intense level of care. Agencies are being asked to do more with budgets that have not kept pace with increased demands and are often in counties where levies are not in place that generate additional revenue.
To help address this issue, I announced a new pilot program called Ohio START (Sobriety, Treatment, and Reducing Trauma–that will serve families harmed by parental opioid abuse. The pilot will begin in fourteen southern Ohio counties: Athens, Clermont, Clinton, Fairfield, Fayette, Gallia, Highland, Jackson, Perry, Pickaway, Pike, Hocking, Ross, and Vinton.
Ohio START will bring together child protective services, peer mentors, the courts, and behavioral health and treatment providers to work with families whose children have been abused or neglected due to parental addiction. Ohio START is an intervention program that will provide intensive trauma counseling to those children and will also make drug treatment available to parents of children referred to the program.
Under Ohio START, child welfare workers will work with a certified peer mentor to meet with each family once a week to ensure the child’s safety and provide support to parents. Caseworkers will oversee the children who can safely stay in the home during this process; otherwise, children will have regular visitation with their parents as they undergo drug treatment paid for by either Medicaid or private insurance.
My office is funding Ohio START through a $3.5 million Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant which will be shared among the counties over two and a half years. These grant funds will specifically help county child welfare agencies identify children who have been victimized due to parental drug use and provide them with specialized treatment for any resulting behavioral or emotional trauma. The grant will also fund victim services for parents whose underlying victimization may be contributing to their addiction.
An additional $75,000 will come from Casey Family Programs, which partnered with my office to develop Ohio START. The Public Children Services Association will administer both grants.
Partners with The Ohio State University’s College of Social Work and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University will study the effectiveness of Ohio START. If it’s shown to be successful, the program may expand to other counties.
The ultimate objective is to stabilize these families so that both kids and parents can recover and move on with abuse-free and addiction-free lives.
Attorney General Mike DeWine is an area resident and guest columnist.