“There is a huge need for family foster homes in this county,” said Marcie Hamilton.
Hamilton is a foster adoption coordinator at Fayette County Children Services. Today she is working on twice the number of foster cases than the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services recommends.
The agency is reporting that the number of children placed in foster care has doubled in the county in the last four years because of the opioid/heroin epidemic.
The county had 29 children in foster care in 2013. Currently there are 63 children in foster care with the number of children placed in foster care in Fayette County increasing each month.
“It’s very much driven by the opioid and heroin epidemic,” said Hamilton. About 70 percent of all children the agency receives are coming to them out of opioid/heroin epidemic cases.
Of the 63 children the county has in foster care, 45 children are currently placed in foster care outside of the county.
“There aren’t enough homes in Fayette County for the children,” said Hamilton. She said children are placed as far away as Youngstown, Mansfield, Ironton, and Gallipolis. “It costs at least double to place them that far away.”
Faye Williamson, Fayette County Department of Job and Family Services director, said the agency’s goal is to keep the kids local and in Fayette County. The kids will be able to stay in the area that is familiar to them and it will also lower the cost for foster care that the county pays.
There has been a 179 percent rise in the cost of foster care to the county over the last four years due to the number of children in foster care doubling. The agency currently spends $1,904 per day on foster care services.
“We are fortunate that our children are all placed in Ohio right now,” said Julie Thacker, Fayette County Department of Job and Family Services assistant director.
She said that in some states, the counties can’t find foster care homes within the state and the children have to be sent to foster care in another state. The further away a child is placed in foster care, the more expensive it is, Thacker said. Even with the children who are placed within the state, the county still has to pay those other county foster homes to take the kids.
“It’s required by law that case workers have to make home visits at the county’s homes far away,” said Thacker. Hamilton said she spent Monday driving six hours across the state and back to visit a child placed in foster care in another county, putting her out of the office for the entire day. Thacker said these ongoing cases that are far away contribute to the high cost of foster care in the county.
The agency is hoping something can be done to help the agency because Fayette County has no tax levy for children’s services and relies on the state allocation and funds from the county commission to operate.
“With the county not receiving any new fiscal resources to address the opioid epidemic and the surge of cases, it is becoming difficult for the agency to continue to provide the services to the children and families,” said Thacker.
The Fayette County Department of Job and Family Services and Fayette County Children Services, with agencies in seven other counties in southern Ohio, met recently with Ohio Sen. Bob Peterson to discuss the costs of care and how high the agency’s case loads are now with the number of children doubling in four years from the opioid epidemic. The agency spent $67,890.48 in the month of January on foster care for the 63 children the county is assisting.
“The cases are different. Ten years ago, it was a dirty home. Today, it’s the opioid epidemic. The cases are more complex, we’re with them longer. Children are in care a lot longer as parents go through treatment getting clean,” said Thacker.
The biggest need in the county right now is foster homes for teenagers, Hamilton said.
Reach Ashley at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton