Ohio caseworkers strive to keep families together, reduce trauma for kids
Wednesday, October 11, 2023
The opioid crisis continues to plaque communities across Ohio, and according to the state Department of Job and Family Services, more than 3,000 Ohio children were removed from their homes because of parental substance use in 2022.
A silver lining is a program called START, which provides wraparound services to families and is seeing high success rates.
Fawn Gadel, director of the Ohio START program for the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, said when a family interacts with Children's Services due to parental substance use, Ohio START steps in to pair the family with a caseworker and family peer mentor.
"The family peer mentor is a person that is in long-term recovery from substance use disorder, and also has experience in children's services themselves," Gadel explained.
Children affected by parental substance use are at higher risk of being placed in foster care and experiencing trauma associated with family separation. During the past six years, Ohio START has assisted more than 1,000 families on the path toward recovery.
Aimee Clemson-Rich, a former family peer mentor and now START caseworker, said the program has a more than 80% success rate in Ashtabula County, where she works. She explained prior to the program, Children's Services would immediately take children out of the home and ask questions later.
She noted START aims to work directly with affected families as a collaborator in reaching the goal of a healthy and safe household.
"The safety plan is where the parent gets to pick a kinship provider," Clemson-Rich outlined. "A family member or a friend that will take care of their kids while the person with substance use disorder goes to treatment."
Clemson-Rich added the stressors of the pandemic, mental health issues and financial pressures are pushing more families into crisis. She pointed out in Ashtabula, START is operating at max capacity.
"We are constantly having to turn families away from this program because there's just not enough caseworkers for the number of intakes that come in," Clemson-Rich stressed.
For her work, the Public Children Services Association of Ohio recently awarded Clemson-Rich the 2023 Child Advocate of the Year award.
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