As the opioid epidemic rages on, it is the youth of today who may be suffering the greatest. With heroin on every street corner, it is clearly also in many homes.
Dr. Laura Fuller, Scioto County Children Services Director, says there are not enough safe homes for children and says all of their numbers are at their highest.
“About 90 percent of our cases are directly related to the parents’ drug use,” Fuller stated. “That’s the highest numbers we’ve ever had.”
She explained that numbers started to rise with the prescription pill use but has never been as bad as it is today. Over the past few years, the agency has had an average number of between 100-125 children in care. Today, they have an agency record of 224.
“When people were on pain pills, it still had an impact, but you also have to remember that many of those had a valid prescription. So then you take that away when you no longer have a doctor prescribing, and you have people turning to illegal drug use with heroin and you have people using Suboxone that they may or may not have a prescription for,” she explained.
Fuller said she first became the director in 2012, at which time the agency was starting to see that certain children were being left at risk. At that time, Children Services were seeing two and three year olds that were so severely neglected they were not reaching major milestones. In nearly all cases, Children Services had been involved in the beginning of the child’s life (often because of a positive drug screening at birth); however, the agency was allowing children to stay with the mothers so long as the mothers were completing specified requirements such as getting drug treatment, attending parenting classes and having regular drug screenings. However, after doing so for the required length of time, the mothers would return to drug use. By the time Children Services was notified, situations were extreme.
“We decided, from a child protection perspective, those victims were our most vulnerable victims – those infants born addicted or drug exposed,” Fuller explained.
From that point on, the local agency has taken custody in every case where both the mom and baby test positive at birth. Last year, children services took custody of 85 babies born addicted. Currently, there are 55 kids under two in children services care.
“Almost all of those are because of the mom’s drug use,” the director said.
Though she was not able to give an exact figure for the number of babies born addicted locally she gave an guess based upon her numbers.
“I think if you talk to SOMC (Southern Ohio Medical Center), they will tell you it’s (the number of babies born addicted) about a third of the population of infants that are born there,” she commented.
SOMC could not be reached for an exact figure; however, in 2013 when heroin was first reaching the area, 144 babies born at SOMC were born addicted – a figure which represented 12 percent of infants born in the hospital.
Fuller also added that SOMC is either the first or one of the first hospitals to start sending off umbilical cords for drug testing, a procedure done in all cases in which the mother has agreed to drug use at any point during the pregnancy. Fuller explained that this form of testing is less reliable because it only shows peaks and valleys in usage. Thus, if a person uses consistently during the pregnancy, the umbilical cord test may give negative results. It is better for showing a binge or when a new drug is started.
Fuller added that the agency continues to work with local treatment programs.
“We are very fortunate in Scioto County that we not only have a lot of drug and alcohol treatment providers but we also have a lot of mental health providers as well. So, it’s not that we don’t have those resources. It’s not that people are on a waiting list. It’s about people being motivated to go,” she stressed.
Anytime a child is removed from their home, the first goal is to place the child with family, but that too is becoming a problem.
“First of all, if they can be safely placed with family, that’s where we want them to be,” Fuller stressed.
In order to take in a child, a person must be able to pass a drug test, background check and safety check of their home.
“What we see is that if there’s drugs in the family, it typically extends out to the extended family,” Fuller stated.
As a result, family may not be able to pass a drug test, may have felonies that prevent them from caring for a child and may live in an unsafe environment.
“It makes it difficult for us,” Fuller commented.
To meet the most demand they have ever had, the agency has the most licensed foster homes they have ever had. This is still not enough. Scioto County Children Services has 26 licensed homes and six in the process of being licensed. All homes are currently full as well as all out-of-network homes. With nowhere to place children, some are as far out as Columbus and Cincinnati. And to add to the misfortune, the opioid epidemic has grown beyond ground zero and now encompasses all of Ohio. Fuller explained that foster homes across the state are full. All are seeing the same issues being seen in Scioto County.
“We’re in desperate need of foster parents,” Fuller stressed. “We’re struggling to find homes for these kids.”
It has always been easy to place babies. Many foster parents would rather not have teenagers and older children, but babies are picked first.
“We never thought we’d see the day when we couldn’t find a home for a baby, and we had that last week,” Fuller explained. “It’s scary times when you think about that, that we’ve never been in that situation before.”
Staff sat with the baby all day, making calls and searching. Most family members were either unable or unwilling. Finally, the agency was able to find a weekend placement with family until the little boy under two could be placed in a foster spot coming available the following Monday. Though the agency is not equipped to house children, caseworkers have spent nights in lobbies with children.
“The system is just so bogged down with kids that there’s no where else to put them, and it’s a direct result of the opioid epidemic,” Fuller stated.
She added that the agency is not seeing any sign that numbers are slowing. They expected that they would slow as children were let out of school. Usually, during summer, there are less reports made to Children Services; however, they caseload just keeps growing.
Anyone interested in helping the children impacted by the epidemic by fostering should call 740-456-4164 ext. 310.
Editor’s note: This is the 11th story in a 16 story series on the heroin epidemic.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.