This is Part 5 of the News Journal’s series on the heroin epidemic and its effects on Clinton County.
WILMINGTON — Kathi Spirk sees families torn apart by drugs, especially heroin, with resurgences of meth from time to time. She is the head of Clinton County Job and Family Services, which includes four agencies.
Spirk said one of her child protection supervisors said the parents in families with drug issues are living a life that they didn’t dream.
“Unfortunately, once the agency becomes involved as a result of a report of child abuse and neglect, the family is in crisis,” Spirk said in a prepared statement. “At that point, it may become necessary for the children to be placed with a relative, kinship care provider, or foster parent to assure safety.”
Spirk said the child protection team works with the family and uses supporting services, such as parenting classes and transportation assistance, to aid families in reaching their treatment and case plan goals.
The child protection team also supervises more than 200 family visits each month.
“All of the areas of Clinton County Job and Family Services can feel the effects of the drug epidemic and the impact on children and families,” said Spirk. “(Our) goal is always to assist families who are struggling with addiction issues and assure that children are safe while treatment options for the issues are found.”
Spirk said drugs are involved in about 71 percent of its 94 current, court-involved cases, and the agency has about 61 children in foster care. Spirk said the agency handles 90 to 110 court cases each month.
CCJFS is comprised of four units — Family Services/Public Assistance, Child Support, Ohio Means Jobs/Employment Services and Child Protection.
“(The drug problem) affects our entire county,” as well as the state and nation, Spirk told the News Journal in an interview. “We’re just one of the agencies that’s affected.”
Spirk said the agency works with several partners in the community — nonprofits, treatment organizations, schools, law enforcement and other government entities — and has made its goal to connect families to services to help them.
“We want to make sure we have a community where people can receive treatment, and also where people don’t feel the need to seek out that type of high,” Spirk said.
The child protection unit, for instance, often gets court-ordered protective supervision, or COPS, puts together a treatment plan and works with families to keep children in their home with their parents.
CCJFS also provides support for kinship and foster care. Often, aunts, uncles or grandparents end up taking care of children, according to Spirk.
“Families have a lot of hopelessness when drugs become a part of their lifestyle,” she said. “They didn’t actively say, ‘I want to really mess up my life.’
“Some of them need something to make them feel better,” she said. “There’s a sense of hopelessness before they get there. Maybe they don’t have jobs, maybe they can’t get jobs. Maybe there’s a lot of stress and pressure in their lives” or depression.
Spirk added that impoverished families aren’t the only ones that need services like those CCJFS offers, and the children CCJFS sees are of all ages.
“Children of all ages are affected,” Spirk said. “Sometimes the older ones are using with the parents.
“Sometimes these children are dealing with some PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), some depression, some suicidal behaviors, cutting,” Spirk said, and have experienced abuse, including sexual abuse.
Sometimes, they take those issues to school, where they have difficulty concentrating and worry about their home life rather than their education.
And, more infants than ever are being born drug-exposed, meaning they have traces of heroin or other drugs in their system at birth. When babies are born that way, they immediately enter CCJFS custody.
CCJFS tries to keep children in its custody with family members, when possible. It has to find resources to treat a child’s struggles, which may mean specialized care.
“The toughest one are the infants,” Spirk said. “They’re born with a multitude of problems,” including need for medication-assisted treatment after they’re born. … Who knows what the long-term, psychological effects are on these children?”
They are difficult to comfort, jittery, show symptoms similar to drug addiction and don’t like to be held, according to Spirk.
There is also good news.
“The Medicaid expansion has allowed for more residents to receive treatment services,” Spirk said. “The addition of the drug court has been another positive expansion for our county. The fact we have Alkermes as the manufacturer of (Vivitrol), which can be used in combination with counseling services to aid in addiction, is yet another great resource offered by our county.
“There are services out there and opportunities to receive assistance and it’s our hope that people will use them,” she said.
Spirk said there’s also a great, broad recognition of the problem, and a change in attitude.
Spirk said more people have expressed interest in foster parenting, talking about the issue and seem more likely to engage the problem of heroin.
She said the community has shifted its attitude from one that says heroin isn’t happening here to it is happening here and it’s the community’s responsibility to be part of the solution.
There are also more treatment options, more partnerships, more services county-wide and more services at CCJFS.
“For our part of the problem, we need to make sure that our staff is kept at the maximum capacity we can keep it,” Spirk said.
Even when children aren’t reunited with their parents, Spirk considers it a success when a child gets some permanency.
And when a child does get to go home to his or her parents, she said, “It’s a success to us.”
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.