Ohio START program to help kids, families victimized by parents' heroin use

Posted at 5:11 PM, Mar 22, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Fifty percent of Ohio children placed in foster care in 2015 were victims of abuse and neglect because of parental drug use, according to children’s advocates. 

With a need so great, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says he is launching a program to help kids and families during the current opiod epidemic.

DeWine says Ohio START (Sobriety, Treatment, and Reducing Trauma)  will provide specialized victim services  to children while also providing drug treatment for parents of kids referred to the program.

"Children with a parent or parents addicted to drugs tend to stay in foster care longer, and they enter foster care having experienced significant trauma,” DeWine said Wednesday.  “While mom and dad are high, these kids may go days without food or supervision.  They may have witnessed a parent inject drugs, overdose, or even die.”

The program will be launched in 14 southern Appalachian counties – including Clermont and Clinton - with the promise of expanding it to the rest of the state if it proves successful.

"This new investment with Appalachian child welfare agencies recognizes two important issues for Ohio: That the opioid crisis is breaking apart families … and that the Appalachian communities and service providers lack critical resources needed to solve this crisis," said Judge Patricia FitzGerald, Senior Director of Casey Family Programs. "This partnership will strengthen Ohio communities and help heal families struggling with opioids and other drugs."

It's a harsh reality Alexandria Weaver knows all too well as she battled with addiction nearly five years ago.

“It made me hit my bottom because that’s what I lived for was my daughter,” Weaver said. “To finally get that motivation, he said,  ‘Once you get clean, you can have her back,' and I was able to do that.”

Ohio START will bring together child protective services, peer mentors, the courts, and behavioral health and treatment providers, DeWine said.

Here's how it will work:

County child welfare agencies will identify children who need help. Child welfare workers will work with a certified peer mentor to meet with each family once a week to ensure the safety of the child and provide support to parents. If a child can safely stay in the home during this process, the child can do so with the oversight of caseworkers. Otherwise, kids will have regular visitation with their parents as they undergo drug treatment, which will be paid for by either Medicaid or private insurance. 

Family reunification will occur after parents have a minimum of six months of documented sobriety.

The program will be funded primarily through a $3.5 million Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant from the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

Casey Family Programs  is providing an additional $75,000 for the pilot program.  Both grants will be administered by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio. 

The other test counties are Athens, Fairfield, Fayette, Gallia, Highland, Jackson, Perry, Pickaway, Pike, Hocking, Ross  and Vinton.

Ohio START is modeled on a similar program in Kentucky that resulted in about half as many children returning to foster care due to parental addiction. Parents involved in the Kentucky program were also found to have twice the sobriety rate. 

SEE WCPO's complete coverage of the Heroin Crisis in the Tri-State.