the Beacon Journal editorial board
Advocates for public children services agencies in Ohio are lobbying lawmakers for a substantial boost in funding in the next state budget. They propose a $30 million annual increase to the current yearly allocation of $45 million. Still, the amount, needed to cope with the devastating effects of the opiate epidemic on children, is modest in the context of the governorís two-year budget proposal of roughly $67 billion.
Put another way, the sum amounts to a tiny fraction of the $9 billion in tax breaks permitted by the state each year.
Whatís more, even a doubling of current funding, to $90 million, still would leave Ohio dead last among the states in terms of support for children services.
Just nine other states share the model Ohio uses for delivering care to vulnerable children through county-level agencies, and all of those states route substantially more money to local agencies to do the job. In Ohio, the state share is just 5 percent, with local funding picking up about three-fourths of the burden and the federal government the rest.
The national average for the state share? Forty percent.
Flat funding of the stateís child protection allocation for the next two budget years, as proposed by Gov. John Kasich, would leave children services agencies across the state struggling to meet increasing and more demanding caseloads with less than the $57 million they received in 2008. Since then, state support has dropped 21 percent. Meanwhile, Ohio now is No. 1 in the country in deaths from heroin and synthetic opiate overdoses.
Driving the budget request is the fallout on children when the adults in their lives are addicted. Across the state, there has been an 11 percent increase since 2010 of children taken into custody who need foster care. (For Summit County, the figure is 16 percent.)
For half the children who must be removed from their homes, drugs are the underlying problem. For 28 percent, opiates, including heroin, are to blame. Contributing to the need for foster care is that entire extended families may be addicted, or have family members who are estranged from addicts.
Advocates also point to the higher cost of caring for children whose lives have been disrupted by parents who are addicts. Because drug rehabilitation takes time and relapses are common, children are staying in foster care longer and requiring more services to recover from what they have experienced. Providing child care in these cases is another need on the rise, and advocates are asking, with good reason, for the state to extend subsidized child care to relatives and foster families.
The state has responded to the opiate epidemic. In the recent lame-duck session, legislators enacted stronger regulations for opiate prescriptions, improved access to naloxone (medication to reverse overdoses) and support for treatment programs. Yet a truly urgent and comprehensive approach that includes a focus on children has been lacking.
After years of decreased funding from the state, agencies such as Summit County Children Services have stretched as far as they can go to handle the fallout from the opiate crisis. Surely, the state can find $30 million to meet their request.