CINCINNATI -- The heroin epidemic is one reason why Hamilton County Job and Family Services is seeing record numbers of people using its child services, according to Director Moira Weir. When multiple members of a family use heroin, she said children can't always fall under the care of their relatives anymore.
Job and Family Services hit an all-time record in Oct. 2016 of almost 700 calls to the 241-KIDS line for reports of suspected child abuse and neglect, Weir said. The average is 300 to 450 per month. As a result of those calls, they placed 214 children in foster care.
Weir added that the number of children JFS has in its custody has doubled since a year ago at more than 2,100 children in their custody, of which 1,100 are in certified foster homes. Forty-two percent of those homes are outside Hamilton County -- another record number, which Weir says is detrimental to the system.
"If you think about it from a child's perspective, you've taken me from my parents, hopefully you've kept me with my siblings, but you've taken me now into a whole different environment," Weir said. "The further you get away from their community, the harder it is to work on reunification."
Weir said the goal is always to reunify children with their natural parents, but 70 percent of foster care cases end with adoption.
Beech Acres Parenting Center in Anderson Township has been so busy that its leaders said they already surpassed its projected numbers for the year. Hamilton County's largest adoption agency, Lighthouse Youth Services, is also feeling the crunch by heightened requests for services.
"We get calls constantly for 14-year-old girls that we have to turn away on a regular basis. We do not have enough homes for these teenagers," said Jami Clarke of Lighthouse. "There are symptoms of domestic violence, discussion around the drug use that they've been exposed to, hoarding food because they aren't being fed properly."
Clarke helps place children for Lighthouse, and said 195 of the 230 kids they care for are from Hamilton County. Clarke said they need homes willing to take transgender children and large groups of siblings. Separating brothers and sisters is a last resort, but it happens frequently despite the financial bonus Lighthouse offers to foster parents who take siblings.
"The 7-year-old that was used to caring for his younger siblings, really cannot stand to be separated from them," Clarke said. "And when you break up that family, he has lost his identity."