The number of children removed temporarily from their homes in Fulton County due to abuse or neglect has increased a startling 67 percent over the past seven years, according to a report released by Job and Family Services.
The figure far surpasses the 19 percent increase across Ohio for the same time period. And nearly half of the local children placed into temporary foster care have parents using opiates.
“The impact of the opiate epidemic goes well beyond the numbers collected by the survey,” FCJFS Director Amy Metz-Simon said. “The numbers do not factor in the faithful grandparents who take on the responsibility of raising their grandchildren to provide a sense of normalcy in their young lives.”
FCJFS statistics show that 20 children were placed outside their homes temporarily this year as compared to 11 in 2015. A survey of Ohio’s county children services agencies shows half of similar cases across the state are due to parents’ drug use, and more than half of those cases involve opiates.
Holly Cade, an FCJFS intake investigator supervisor, said those numbers don’t surprise her and, in fact, will likely increase.
“This is across all socio-economic levels. We’re seeing it across the board. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we see the effects of it within our families,” she said.
She said some parents whose children are removed from the home are using other drugs. But opiates – often in the form of heroin – are often the drug of choice.
“It’s the accessibility of that heroin, and the portability of it,” she said.
Parents using opiates often start out using painkillers, either to treat pain from injury, to self-medicate or for other reasons, said Maurine Clymer, FCJFS ongoing and adoption supervisor. What they don’t initially realize is that opiates change the chemical map of the brain, and cause powerful withdrawal symptoms users want to avoid.
“It’s definitely a horrific drug. It has immediate effects, and it harder and harder for the addict to quit,” Clymer said. “People are saying once they’ve used it once they’re hooked.”
Unfortunately for the rising number of children caught in the middle, Ohio assistance for their protection has declined over a seven-year period by 17 percent. The decrease has left county governments responsible for a state average of 52 cents on the dollar for child protection, while the state commits only to nine cents on the dollar.
FCJFS attempts to counteract the growing trend by offering using parents options including counseling. Fulton County has several treatment providers, and treatment can be funded through government grants, the local ADAMhs board, and health insurance.
But Clymer admits treatment is useless if the user refuses to acknowledge their addiction. “Until they admit they have a problem, it’s a tough battle,” she said.
Cade said the FCJFS’s priority is the children’s safety. Their removal from a home is determined by whether drugs have affected the using parents’ ability to provide basic needs.
“It’s possible the addict can keep the children if they’re getting the right support and they’re actively participating in their treatment…and we remain involved with the family,” she said.
Cade said in addition to FCJFS efforts to combat the current opiate trend, county residents also have the advantage of aggressive anti-drug campaigns by the Health Department, area and regional help organizations, the sheriff’s office, the Multi Area Narcotics Task Force, and neighboring counties.
“We certainly do have a community that’s aware of it and taking action,” she said. “Cooperation across jurisdictions is definitely needed. But I think we do a good job, not just Fulton County, but a larger community. And I think it’s important we keep talking about it.”
Community members interested in being foster parents can call 419-337-0010, Option 3, then 3.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.