WILMINGTON — Though they’re not the ones addicted, the heroin and opiate scourge shakes the lives of children in the community.
The director of the Clinton County Job and Family Services (JFS) acknowledged Wednesday that the agency’s Child Protection Unit faces a formidable challenge in responding to how the opiate epidemic is affecting children.
“Our job really is to work with the innocent victims of this crisis,” said Clinton County JFS Director Kathi Spirk.
When an adult is addicted to heroin or opioids, there often is a child in the family and that’s where the Child Protection Unit comes in.
Job and Family Services currently averages about 60 children in its custody in foster care. Almost 70 percent of those children have a parent with an opiate issue, Spirk said.
Gina Speaks-Eshler, deputy director of Clinton County Job and Family Services, said the agency has more special needs babies in its custody than ever as a result of opiates.
Many of the local foster homes cannot handle some of the special needs of these children, who require specialized placements, said Speaks-Eshler. Those are more expensive placements, she said.
In 2006 Clinton County JFS had eight children in specialized placements, with the remainder within local foster families, she said. Now there are 28 children in specialized placements.
These children are sick or traumatized, and they have special needs, Speaks-Eshler added.
Spirk said as advocates for families and children, JFS staff wants the community to be aware of the opiate epidemic’s effects on children and what the children are dealing with. She said she and Speaks-Eshler have made a commitment along with other directors of agencies to talk to legislators about the funding for child protection.
Since 2009, the State of Ohio has “flat-funded” the child protection services, said Spirk.
State Sen. Bob Peterson (R-District 17) has been invited to come to Clinton County JFS this Friday.
Placement costs are “skyrocketing,” Speaks-Eshler said, adding Clinton County JFS has seen an 80 percent increase in placement costs in the past 10 years.
She said the county JFS is presently spending about $4,500 a day to maintain foster placements.
Because of the opiate crisis and because children often are part of that environment, Spirk said the agency has seen “quite a change” in the children in its custody — in the level of their difficulties and needs, and with their mental health issues.
She said it is JFS’s responsibility to always work toward family reunification when it can, but that it’s becoming harder to achieve that in the narcotics crisis.
Many times parents cannot reunify with their children and children cannot go home, and then more children end up in JFS’s permanent custody where the effort becomes finding an adoptive home.
That number, said Spirk, has quadrupled during the past five years.
Court filings — made when a child is in danger — increased 200 percent during the years from 2006 to 2016, said Spirk, who said it is related to the opiate crisis.
Speaks-Eshler said, “I think it’s sad that Ohio is last in the nation in state child protection allocation and funding. That to me is unacceptable.”
Clinton County JFS currently has 61 children in foster care. These placements include local foster homes, therapeutic homes, group homes and residential treatment centers depending on the child’s specific needs, Spirk said.
In a second appointment on the county commissioners’s Wednesday schedule, Clinton County Common Pleas Judge John W. “Tim” Rudduck said he thinks the proposal to utilize the main room of the law library as storage for elections equipment is “frankly, a bad idea.”
Previously, the judge has said the court’s Adult Probation Department needs more space, in part so that supervisors and their assigned defendants being monitored can hold private conversations.
There is “a pressing need” to improve the work environment of the Adult Probation staff, Rudduck said Wednesday.
Clinton County Commissioner Patrick Haley said the more he considered the storage proposal for the courthouse, he came to think that storing the elections equipment is “better served off site.”
In addition to the Clinton County Board of Elections and Adult Probation, the Clinton County Auditor’s Office is seeking more space. The effort to find space for county government services is expected to taken that into account, also.
Haley said the pending moves need to be done right, and not by a “seat-of-the-pants” approach.
Clinton County Commissioner Brenda K. Woods, referring to the decision-making process, said she wants to “keep it moving.” She said the employees themselves are in a good position to know their own space needs.
At one point, Clinton County Commissioner President Kerry R. Steed said the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Office in the courthouse is “linked” in function with the Tax Map Office, which he said is linked with the Auditor’s Office, which in turn is linked with the County Recorder’s Office.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.