Summit County Children Services soon will launch a major, multiyear research project focused on parents addicted to drugs and alcohol — one of the big reasons kids end up in the child welfare system.
The agency nabbed a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct the five-year effort, which is expected to begin in March.
It will attempt to better identify parents with substance-abuse problems and improve services for them and their children. The overall goal is to stabilize troubled families and not yank kids out of their homes.
“This program can change lives,” said Kevin Brown, agency director of research. “I’m just so excited about it. It’s these intense wrap-around services for the families dealing with substance abuse, and it’s going to strengthen our system, as well.”
Children Services plans to offer the enhanced services to 500 to 600 families through the new STARS program, formally called the Summit County Collaborative on Trauma, Alcohol & Other Drug & Resiliency-building Services for Children & Families.
Summit County Public Health; Summit County Family & Children First Council; Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board; Akron Children’s Hospital; and Summit County Juvenile Court also are participating.
The effort will offer in-home drug and alcohol assessments, cross-train child welfare workers and substance-abuse specialists, bring the Strengthening Families program to the county and involve a control group that won’t receive the same intensive services.
For research purposes, families will be assigned randomly to either the STARS program or regular services. (All the children will receive trauma screening and therapy where needed.)
“We know that sometimes we struggle to identify that population or link that population to services because they sometimes are resistant,” said Sharon Geffken, Children Services deputy executive director of social services. “We are hoping this will lead to earlier identification.”
The agency has estimated that at least 30 percent of its families have a substance-abuse issue, but officials suspect it’s a much higher percentage. They expect that percentage to climb to 60 or 70 percent through the program.
Crystal Ward Allen, executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio in Columbus, estimated that up to 80 percent of families entering the child welfare system have some drug or alcohol problem.
“That has remained constant over a couple of decades,” she said.
She cited Ohio’s ongoing drug problem, especially with prescription medication and heroin. State leaders have started to crack down on so-called “pill mills.”
Earlier this summer, Summit County Children Services was so alarmed at how many families were dealing with methamphetamine problems that it held a community forum in Akron.
Some child welfare workers believe the opiate problem affecting parents today is worse than the “crack baby” epidemic of the 1980s.
“It’s definitely an epidemic that we’re very concerned with,” Allen said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.