WILMINGTON — During his last two years of high school, Gary Bender was in foster care as his biological mother was addicted to drugs.
He was not physically abused at home, but he was neglected — his mother was rarely there.
Bender said he witnessed a lot of drug activity and had run away to get away from the environment he was in.
Bender feels lucky to have had support from his foster parents, who to this day he calls mom and dad.
“They deserve those titles,” he said.
“Children Services helped guide me to be the person I am today, along with a lot of other people who were big supporters,” Bender said.
He joined the U.S. Army infantry at 18 and spent 6½ years in the military service, including a 14-month tour in Iraq.
Bender has been a police officer for 11 years now, is married with two children, and will be getting a master’s degree in criminal justice.
Because of his trying life experiences and his time as a youth in foster care here — plus the success story he embodies — Middletown police officer Gary Bender was a guest speaker this week at a “Keep Kids Safe Educational Forum.”
The event was in conjunction with a 1.1-mills additional Children Services levy on the fall ballot to generate funds to protect a greater number of children due to the substance abuse scourge.
Clinton County Job and Family Services (JFS) Director Kathi Spirk spoke at the public meeting. The Child Protection Unit is a division of Clinton County JFS.
“We are very optimistic that our community will embrace the cause for our children who are abused and neglected,” she said. “The kids are our future, and we will eventually be judged on how we best served the children in our community,” added Spirk.
Later she said the hope for the impacted children “really is about us being able to work together as a community to solve some of these problems. To work together with all our community partners — with the courts, law enforcement, with the schools, with mental health, to find solutions for our kids and then also for the families.”
Clinton County Child Protection Unit is mandated to investigate child abuse and neglect, provide services to children and families, and to provide a safe home for children when they can no longer be with their families.
According to information distributed at the educational forum, 90 percent of all children currently in the custody of Clinton County JFS have been exposed to drugs.
From 2014 through 2017 in Clinton County, there was a 102 percent increase in the number of children requiring court-ordered protection. Also, there were 56 percent more children in foster care in 2017 than in 2014 in Clinton County.
The 1.1-mills, five-year tax levy would cost a $100,000 homeowner about $38.50 annually, campaign literature stated.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.