Imagine a balloon filled almost to the point of bursting. Instead of letting air out, more and more is pumped in.
How far can it stretch?
Foster care in Ohio is facing this kind of stress. With far fewer foster families than needed to care for children in various domestic situations already, our national opioid epidemic has compounded the problem by bringing more kids into a system at its breaking point.
Last week, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office launched a pilot program aimed at helping counties find relatives of children in the care of their local Department of Job and Family Services.
Stark is among the eight counties in the trial group, as was Allen County. Children from homes where parents or guardians are abusing drugs have driven up the number in foster care here by nearly 10 percent in the past year.
According to a report from an advocacy group that represents county children services agencies, roughly half of the children taken into custody in 2015 had a parent who used drugs. When data for 2016 and 2017 are tabulated, it’s a safe bet which way that number moved.
Unless Ohio can turn around that trend, the cost to taxpayers for foster care will exceed $550 million within a few years, the report predicted.
It is another painful example of how opioid and other drug addiction costs all Ohioans.
In Canton, the number of children in foster care and the number of available foster homes exceeds the state’s already troubling 2-to-1 ratio: 383 children, 169 licensed homes.
Can we ask much more of the dedicated families already opening their homes to these kids in need? How much more air can the balloon accept?
That’s where officials hope the “family finder” pilot initiative can step in. The money Stark receives will train staff in the “30 Days to Family” program, whose primary goal is keeping foster children connected with their relatives — and potentially placed with a relative.
Such outcomes have shown to lessen trauma on the child who typically has been living in a stress-filled environment.
So what can we do?
Certainly the foster care system always can use more devoted adults willing to open their homes to children in need. The process requires some time, but nearly every foster parent will tell you the rewards far outweigh the challenges.
Another way to help: Continue the fight against opioids. Lessening drug abuse among parents means fewer kids exposed to situations at home that could break up their families.
We all have roles to play in taking some air out of this balloon before it’s stretched past its breaking point.
This editorial was written by the editorial staff of the Canton Repository and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or Aim Media, owner of The Lima News.