COLUMBUS (WCMH) — With more than 16,000 children in foster care in Ohio, the number of children entering the system has been on the rise since 2016, bucking a national trend.
Gov. Mike DeWine is blaming the opioid epidemic in large part for the increase.
Right now, of those children in the system, more than 3,000 need to be adopted because they can no longer be reunited with their families.
Nearly the same amount of infants were removed from Ohio homes from 2017 to 2018 due to substance abuse problems.
DeWine calls it a crisis.
“Kids have one time to grow up, one opportunity… one opportunity and we’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that they have that childhood,” he said.
Solving that crisis starts with making the system better for children and families.
According to Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, a foster child himself, they can’t fix the system if they don’t know what the everyday challenges are.
As a result, DeWine has created an advisory council to review the system from top to bottom and provide recommendations on how to make it better.
To do that, the council will be holding seven public meetings over the next month and a half in the following locations:
- Southeast Region – Nov. 13 − Athens Community Center, Athens
- Western Region − Nov. 18 − Auglaize County Educational Service Center, Wapakoneta
- Central Region – Nov. 21 − Central Ohio Technical College, Pataskala Campus
- Northwest Region − Dec. 9 − Wood County Department of Job and Family Services, Children Services/Visitor Entrance, Bowling Green
- Northern Region − Dec. 11 − Medina County University Center (University of Akron), Medina
- Southwest Region − Dec. 17 − Lebanon Conference and Banquet Center, Lebanon
- Northeast Region − Dec. 19 − United Way of Greater Stark County, Canton
The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption not only supports the effort, but it also plans to participate.
”It’s an excellent idea to get public input both from families, from professionals, from the interested public,” said Rita Soronen, president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. “Get that input and increase their awareness of what this conversation is and advise the Governor and advise ODJFS on what they’re seeing in their counties as well.”
The foundation’s work is primarily focused on connecting children in foster care with adoptive families, once the court deems they cannot return to their original families.
Since 2012, the foundation has worked with the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, providing it with grant money to hire employees with the focus of finding adoptive families to place children in need.
In 2017, while DeWine was Ohio Attorney General, his office arranged for $1 million dollars to be used by eight Ohio counties to do the same thing — bringing in staff to find families to place children.
Back then, it was estimated that by the year 2020, there would be 20,000 children in the foster care system. While it does not appear that number will be reached, what was unforeseen was the increase in the number of children that would need adoptions due to unresolved or unresolvable situations with their original families.