Statewide Opioid Epidemic Creating Local Foster Care Shortage
Ohio officials recently announced a plan aimed at making it easier to become a foster parent. There’s a growing shortage of placements as a result of the worsening opioid epidemic. The addiction crisis is also making it more difficult to place children removed from an unstable home with family members, advocates say.
As of August, more than 15,000 children were reported in foster care in Ohio, but the state has just 7,200 foster families ready to take them.
In Montgomery County, there are roughly 230 foster homes. That’s about 25 percent fewer than just a few years ago.
What's best for the children
So-called “kinship placement” is the first option children’s services look for when removing a child from an unstable home. But now multi-generational drug use is making that less of on option, says Jewell Goode, assistant director for Montgomery County Job and Family Services.
“So we have parents and grandparents on both sides of the family sometimes where you just don't have options for placement because everybody's dabbling in something," she says.
"We had a case just recently where we had a grandmother who actually overdosed so she wasn't able to be looked at for a child. Mom had her own addiction issues. Just lots and lots of that. We're working very hard to try to recruit foster parents because without them that we have to step into what we would call a more restrictive level of care."
So, Goode says officials are placing more children outside the family.
“That might look like a group home where there could be up to 10 children total living in a group home or even, depending on the child psychiatric needs, they may need to go into a children's residential treatment center which can be as large as the state license for that - so more than 20, 30, 40 kids often times in a residential setting.”
And, Goode says, county foster cases are also becoming more serious. Families are staying involved with the department longer, and there is an increase in the number of parents whose parental rights are being taken away.
A long history of fostering
Bill and Mary Duley’s home in Xenia looks like many of the brick ranch-style homes nearby. The neighborhood was ground zero during the devastating 1974 Xenia Tornado. Like their neighbors, the Duleys rebuilt, and for more than 30 years, they have shared their home with foster children in need.
Many of the children’s pictures rest on the fireplace mantle and decorate shelves and tables around the room. Mary estimates they’ve taken in more than 80 children.
“Sometimes they stay for a while," she says. "One stayed two years, and they sent him home and his mom didn’t like him and she said to the the agency 'I want him to go back to Mary.' They didn’t tell me at the time that he had a broken arm and he had a lot of bruises on him, but we kept him for another two and a half years and then my brother and sister-in-law adopted him, So we still have him.”
When the Duleys fostered their first child, a boy, the agency had never even met her husband Bill, and never required them to get a license.
Mary says the foster care system’s rules and regulations aren't the only changes they have seen in 30 years. The children have changed too. Many are so-called NAS babies -- babies born dependent on opioids their mothers used.
"It's very hard because of all the drugs. We’re bringing babies into this world that go through tremendous pain to go through withdrawal, and it's very hard and you see their little bodies tremble, and it has lasting effects.”
Mary prefers to foster newborns up to the age of three but says children born to addicted parents often have more needs. As we talk, she sits in a comfortable chair feeding an infant girl in her arms.
The Duleys have had baby “Rose” for a couple of months now. She is the first foster child they’ve had in a long while who was not born dependent on drugs. Still, Mary says Rose won’t be going back to her mom, but will eventually be placed with relatives.
State efforts to deal with a widespread problem
The need for more foster parents like the Duleys extends statewide. Because of the growing shortage, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says some children are being sent to foster homes outside their own counties, or even across the state.
DeWine’s office has created a new website for potential foster care providers. He has also promised quicker processing for foster parent applications.
For any counties sending background check requests into his office he says, "All they have to do is let us know that's what the purpose is and we will put those cases at the head of the line. These need to be priorities. We’ll get them a 24-hour turnaround time. We gotta get these foster families moving forward and we don’t want any impediment because of a background check."
DeWine, who is also running for governor, has announced $1 million in grants to child welfare agencies in ten of the state’s counties hardest-hit by the opioid crisis. The funds will help pay for additional staffing and resources to help recruit new foster families.
Stepping up to fill a need
At the Duley’s house in Xenia, a garden stone outside their front door reads "I child-proofed my home, but they still get in." It is especially humorous given Bill and Mary's dedication to fostering children, as well as raising their own, for more than thirty years.
Mary says even though they’re now in their seventies, she and her husband will continue to foster children who need them.
“We love doing it and God will let me know. When I’m not physically, we’re not physically able to care for them, he’s gonna let me know it’s time to quit."
Bill says the house can get lonely when there are no children there and as he looks at Mary, who's still holding baby Rose, adds, "She never met a child she didn’t love."