Not enough foster parents in Ohio to meet growing demand

CINCINNATI -- Brooklyn was born May 7, 2016, in need of help and a safe place to grow up. Less than a week later, family services placed her with a pair of foster parents: Ben and Megan Ballein, who received their license to care for her just days before.

Their story isn't unusual. Hamilton County is flooded with a "staggering" number of children needing care and understocked with foster parents prepared to give it. Prospective parents whose applications are approved could easily experience similarly short turnaround times.

"The need is so great," Megan Ballein said Friday. "I think everybody has that feeling and that fear of, 'I could never do that because I don't want to get attached and they're going to go home.'"

She and her husband, who had struggled to conceive biological children together, had the same fear. However, Ben Ballein's own past -- he was adopted as a child -- helped push them to take a chance on baby Brooklyn. 

"Now, looking at Brooklyn, I think, 'What if we wouldn't have taken that chance?'" Megan said. "I can't imagine how different our lives would be, and I also can't imagine our life without her."

The two foster parents became Brookyln's adoptive parents this year -- an event the entire family celebrated. They consider it a happy ending to their story.

Thousands more children just like Brooklyn, however, still need foster parents to take care of them. Even more need smaller forms of protective care from the country. Hamilton County Children's Services served 20,204 children in 2017, which was a sharp increase from 16,912 in 2012. 

"You can see it's been ramping up, and this year it's really kind of exploded," John Silverman told Hamilton County commissioners Monday. "Children's Services simply cannot keep up."

The need is so severe that Children's Services has withdrawn around $10 million from a reserve fund to continue operating. Silverman and others hope the county commission will approve a new levy supporting the organization, which would appear on the ballot in November.

Like his wife, Ben Ballein said he wouldn't change a thing about the way Brooklyn came into their lives.

"I can't wait to tell her the whole story," he said.

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