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Opioid Crisis Sparks Urgent Need for Ohio Foster Families

Today, there are an estimated 1,400 more children in foster care in Ohio than in 2011. (Pixabay)
Today, there are an estimated 1,400 more children in foster care in Ohio than in 2011. (Pixabay)
May 8, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio – During this National Foster Care Month, there's an urgent call for Ohioans to open their homes to care for children in need.

Children service agencies are reporting record numbers of children coming into care, partly due to the opioid epidemic.

Robin Reese, executive director of Lucas County Children Services, explains children are also staying in care for longer time periods. She says it's the job of groups like hers to protect children, but it can't be done without more foster families willing to open their hearts.

"I've been doing this for 33 years and this year, it rings truer than ever before that we need foster parents,” she states. “And if we don't get them, I can't even imagine the outcomes for children if families don't step up."

There are an estimated 1,400 more children in Ohio foster care compared to six years ago, and about 7,000 are in protective custody because their parents were using drugs, including opioids.

The Ohio House of Representatives recently passed a measure to invest an additional $15 million a year to help local children service agencies address the impact of the opioid epidemic.

Another proposed budget amendment explores ways to improve foster parent recruitment, licensing and retention.

Patrick Clevenger of Ross County and his wife began fostering their now 5-year-old adopted son when he was just five weeks old. Clevenger says the baby was addicted to several different drugs, and for his first eight months was irritable, could not self-soothe and could not sleep.

"It was really rough on us, rough on a marriage and rough on being parents to our other children,” he recounts. “And right now, he's hitting all his marks in school – he's in preschool, going to kindergarten – and pretty smart, really. And right now, he's just full of energy."

The family is also fostering an 18-year-old woman, who decided to stay in care until she finishes high school. Clevenger says he and his wife had no experience parenting a teenager, but saw her vulnerabilities.

"Children being raised around addictions in these homes, there's just no protection for them,” he says. “So, being a foster parent, you're being a role model. You're putting your love in your care out there for a child, for period of time – and that's the way the world runs best, is that we care for people in need."

Clevenger says his foster daughter graduates this month with honors, and will go to college in the fall.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH