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Opioid Crisis Impeding Reunification for Ohio Families

About 4,800 of the more than 24,000 Ohio kids who exited foster care in 2016 were reunified with their families. (Pixabay)
About 4,800 of the more than 24,000 Ohio kids who exited foster care in 2016 were reunified with their families. (Pixabay)
August 8, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio – When a child is removed from their home, the ultimate goal is to get them back with their families. But reunification is becoming increasingly difficult as an influx of kids enter care due to the opioid epidemic.

Paula Davis, the associate director of the East Region for the with Franklin County Children's Services, says a child cannot stay in foster care for longer than 12 out of 22 months, which doesn't necessarily align with a parent's treatment for drug addiction.

"A lot of times we are fighting the clock," she says. "Because we have to have a permanent plan for these children within that time frame. As more and more parents are fighting this epidemic it's taking longer to get children home. And think we're probably going to see an increase in permanent custody or in relative care as a result."

The average amount of time spent in foster care is about 13 months, says Davis. And of the over 24,000 children who exited foster care in Ohio in 2016, just 4,800 were reunified with their families and about 3,000 went to live with a kinship provider.

Wendi Turner, the executive director, of the Ohio Family Care Association, explains it's in the best interest of the child to get them back living with their parents, as long as conditions are safe. And she says getting to that point often takes the work of dedicated foster parents.

"It's extremely important for foster parents who want to make a difference in a child's life to be that gap, to be that person that will be able to give that child a safe environment so that hopefully that family can heal and become healthier and stronger," Turner explains.

Turner adds it's also important for the foster parents to support the birth parent as they work to get their child back.

"Maybe it's just a smile or 'You're doing a good job,' or give them a little bit of information about the child: accomplishment they made in school or something they learned in the house," she says. "Sometimes it's just those really small interactions that help and supports that family with their reunification."

She notes that the opioid crisis has resulted in a great need for foster parents in all parts of the state, and encourages anyone willing to open their hearts and homes to apply.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH