Marion Star Op Ed by Director Jacqueline Ringer

Its 1:30 in the morning and the phone rings. Marion Police Department.  A female victim in the home has overdosed, unresponsive to emergency treatment.  The officer says there are three unattended children under the age of 5 in the home and in need of immediate care.  It’s hard to imagine this call, but it is a reality for child protection workers.  Over the recent years, the opiate epidemic has ravaged Marion County and is leaving families broken, and  vulnerable children in its wake. Sometimes, the voices that you do not hear, are the ones most in need of help.  These voices, the silent victims, are the ones left unheard, but are severely impacted by this opiate epidemic.

 

What used to be sporadic occurrences of responding to drug raids or overdoses where children were present has now become common practice. Marion County Children Services provided services in 2016 to 1 out of every 8 children in the county.  As of September of 2016, 86% of our court involved cases involved drug related concerns. Our caseworkers are now first-responders to opioid-related concerns which are complex and require intensive case management. Marion is not alone in this struggle. Ohio has been ranked #1 in the nation for the number of heroin deaths and #1 for synthetic drug overdoses.

 

Parental substance abuse remains the primary reason for children to be removed from their homes and placed in foster care in Marion. In the past 5 years, Marion County alone experienced a 56% increase in the number of children unable to be safe in their own homes requiring foster care. In 2016, the median number of days in temporary custody has increased from 121 days in 2010, to 331 days in 2016.  Over 50% of the children in foster care are 0 – 5 years of age. With the increase in the number of children requiring safety, we simply do not have enough foster homes to fill the need requiring to place the children outside of their community. In January of 2017, Marion County Children Services had 38 foster homes available to care for 67 children.

 

Experience and training has proven that children placed with family or friends reduces stress considerably that results from being removed from their family. We rely greatly on family members of the children. We have increased our placements with family or friends over 100% since 2010. However, appreciation alone does not assist our family members willing to take in these children. They face significant challenges taking on additional children at a minutes notice and a lack of available assistance to help with these situations.

 

With a drastic rise in need for our services, Ohio’s child protection system has received no new state dollars to address this epidemic. In fact, the system experienced a 21% reduction in state funding specific to local children services agencies in 2008, and have not received any further funding since 2010. Our placement costs have increased 98% in the past three years.  Ohio continues to be 50th in the nation for state money that is given to children services agencies.  If Ohio would double the money it gives to its local child protection agencies, Ohio would still rank 50th.

 

Child protection workers, who are responsible for protecting abused and neglected children are overwhelmed with the rising number and complexity of cases. We are averaging 24% caseworker turnover in the past 3 years.  Staff are leaving child protection for less stressful, and better paying jobs.  Without new resources, they cannot meet the demands they are facing.

 

We are incredibly fortunate to provide child protection services in Marion, Ohio; a community with a long standing history of supporting our efforts through a local levy tax. Over 40% of our operating funds are generated by a 2.12 mill levy based off of 1989 property values. This alone, however, is unable to keep up with the needs of the community and the children of Marion County. Child protection agencies in Ohio need help to provide essential services to our vulnerable children-the silent victims of the opiate crisis.  Now is the time to invest in our future by supporting and protecting our children.