Montgomery County Children Services and the Public Children Services Association of Ohio say their systems are in crisis.
County children services agencies across the state cannot afford the cost of children in foster care. There’s been a 28 percent increase in children in state custody over the last five years, and taking care of those children costs much more than it used to.
“The cost of foster and residential facility placements totaled almost $370 million in 2018, an increase of almost $95 million in five years, and those costs are projected to increase by at least another $44 million by 2020. This is just for room and board, not services, not staffing,” PCSAO Executive Director Angela Sausser said.
Cyndi Swafford and her husband have taken on 20 children in all — one biological and three others they adopted. Swafford says the ultimate goal is to reunite these children with their families.
“There are kids in care — they’re older, they’re teens — they need placements. They need love. They need support. They need structure. And they often get forgotten about in the system,” Swafford said.
Local experts say there simply are not enough caregivers like the Swaffords who are willing or able to take in child victims of trauma.
“Here’s our war. Here’s our emergency. Here’s our crisis,” Helen Jones-Kelly, executive director of Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, said. “We are succeeding in bringing the number of overdoses down and saving lives certainly, but we’re not succeeding in terms of the trauma, the carnage that’s left when this wrecks a family’s life.”
In Montgomery County, the number of children in foster care has remained relatively steady, but more children are being put in homes with extended family.
Jewell Good is director for Montgomery County Children Services. The department has a great need for local foster families.
As of News Center 7’s interview, seven kids had to be placed in at least four different states. The need of those children is greater than in the past.
“We have children who are behaviorally and psychologically out of control. Kids’ behaviors are such that they are literally tearing people’s houses up. They are frequently running away,” Good said. These children have had, “… so many life experiences I think the general community can’t even wrap its head around.”
Montgomery County recently purchased cots in case there is nowhere else for children to go but the lobby of the Haines Children's Center.
“[Some of these kids] are witnessing parental overdoses. They are prostituted for drugs,” Good said.
Experts say they need more funding to protect these children — and they need more foster families willing to help.