More help for Clermont kids whose parents use heroin

COLUMBUS – In the fight against opioid addiction in Ohio, children are the “innocent, invisible victims.”

So said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Wednesday when he announced a pilot program that will help children abused or neglected due to their parents’ drug use.

Families in 14 southern Ohio counties most impacted by opiate abuse, including Clermont, will soon benefit from increased resources at county children’s services agencies. In Clermont County, 56 percent of children who entered foster care in 2015 were placed because of parental drug use, according to the Public Children Services Association of Ohio.

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Ohio START, or Sobriety, Treatment and Reducing Trauma, will provide specialized services, like intensive trauma counseling, to children. The program will also offer increased access to drug treatment to parents of children referred to the program. The goal is to help parents fight addiction, treat their children’s trauma and get them back home faster.

“Our children’s services in the state of Ohio are in crisis,” DeWine said.

Through START, child protective services, peer mentors, court systems and behavioral health and treatment providers will work together to provide services. Instead of monthly meetings typical for children’s services, those in the START program will meet with a caseworker weekly. Parents are paired with a recovery coach.

The pilot program is set for two and a half years, but DeWine expects to see results quicker. It officially launches in April.

The number of children placed in foster care over the past few years has steadily increased. Statewide, about half of those kids were placed because of abuse or neglect due to parental drug abuse, according to the Public Children’s Services Association of Ohio.

These numbers likely don’t show the whole picture, said Judge Patricia FitzGerald, senior director of Casey Family Programs. Cases involving addiction are often underreported, as families initially come to children’s services with other issues and the addiction is discovered later. Communities, FitzGerald added, do not have the resources on their own to deal with their overwhelming caseloads.

“Children with a parent or parents addicted to drugs tend to stay in foster care longer, and they enter foster care having experienced significant trauma. While mom and dad are high, these kids may go days without food or supervision. They may have witnessed a parent inject drugs, overdose or even die,” DeWine said.

These cases, on average, are more expensive to deal with.

Statewide, children’s services experienced an 11 percent increase in children removed from homes and a 19 percent increase in children staying in care longer because the difficulty their parents face through recovery.

The more collaborative approach is the direction Fairfield County was heading, said Aundrea Cordle, Fairfield County director of Job and Family Services. Now, they can implement those goals faster. Another growing problem is the number of infants born drug positive. From 2014 to 2015, there was a 50 percent increase in Fairfield County, and a 60 percent increase from 2015 to 2016.

South Central Ohio Job and Family Services Director Jody Walker said the more intensive engagement will focus on addiction and recovery, something that can get lost with a more traditional approach.

START takes after a similar Kentucky program, with half as many children returning to the system because of their parents’ addiction. Parents also had twice the sobriety rate.

Most of the funding comes from a $3.5 million Victims of Crime Act grant from the Attorney General’s office over two and a half years. DeWine admitted that the money isn’t being used in a conventional manner, but the fight against drug addiction requires unconventional techniques. Jails, he said, often serve as detox centers, something he knows sheriffs didn’t anticipate dealing with when they entered law enforcement.

Drug treatment from peer mentors will be paid through Medicaid or private insurance, but Angela Sausser, executive director of the  Public Children’s Services Association of Ohio, said the program will also help these parents access treatment, acknowledging the wait lists addicts often face when they try to get into rehab.

Casey Family Programs is also providing $75,000 for the pilot after helping the Attorney General’s Office develop the program.

Counties piloting the START program are Athens, Clermont, Clinton, Fairfield, Fayette, Gallia, Highland, Jackson, Perry, Pickaway, Pike, Hocking, Ross and Vinton counties. The program may expand to other counties in the future depending on its success.

Columbus Bureau Chief Chrissie Thompson contributed to this report.

Link to article here: More help for Clermont kids whose parents use heroin