CINCINNATI -- One thousand more Ohio children will be spending their holidays in foster care this year compared to 2016 as the opioid crisis continues to take an unprecedented toll on families, according to a report released Thursday.
More than 15,500 children are in the custody of Ohio's children service agencies, a 23 percent increase over 2016, according to the latest data from the Public Children Protective Services Association of Ohio, a Columbus-based nonprofit.
Fueling the spike is a record number of children being removed from homes of drug-addicted parents: 50 percent of children being taken into custody across the state have a parent with a drug abuse problem, according the data. At least 28 percent are kids whose parents were using opioids at the time they were removed from their home.
"Many of these kids watched their parents overdose or die," said Angela Sausser, executive director of the association. "They are missing milestones with their families such as birthday parties and ringing in the New Year, and many are staying in care longer due to their parents relapsing."
In Hamilton County, more than 3,500 children are in custody -- with 1,518 entering the system just this year, according the Hamilton County Job and Family Services. Both numbers are the highest the county has seen in more than 20 years.
But rural communities have been among the hardest hit.
In Clermont County, more than half of all children placed into Children's Protective Services in 2016 had parents who were addicted to heroin or other drugs, according the nonprofit’s most recent survey of foster care agencies. That’s far above the state’s average of 28 percent, and neighboring Hamilton County’s average of 17 percent.
Heroin's impact on Ohio's foster care system
In a growing number of counties, more than half of the children removed from their parents' care in 2016 was due to parental drug use, including opioids. Here's a look at the impact across Ohio, according to data from the Public Children Services Association of Ohio.
Compounding the problem: As more children enter the foster care system, costs are soaring, putting child protective services agencies across Ohio’s 88 counties at risk for a financial disaster. At the current pace, officials say Ohio could have more than 20,000 kids in foster care by 2020 -- requiring an additional $175 million just to find homes for them, according to the report.
"We are sounding the alarm now," Sausser said. "We need substantially more state resources before we lose the ability to provide essential services to vulnerable children."
Although Ohio's legislature committed $30 million in new money through 2019 for child services work across the state, more resources will be needed, Sausser said.
More recruitment efforts for more foster and adoptive homes
More support for family members who have taken in children from another family member
More money for the projected increase in foster care placement costs
Increased recruitment for foster care workers
Without additional support, "we will have children sleeping in the county agency lobbies with no available foster family to take them in," Sausser said. "Ohio needs a long-term solution to this crisis -- and leadership to get us there before agency budgets collapse and our workforce jumps ship."