The number of children in custody of Children Services here in Ohio continues to grow. People who work in child welfare say that increase has a direct connection to the opiate crisis.
According to figures from the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, if the opioid epidemic continues at this current pace in the state, there will be more than 20,000 children in foster care by 2020.
But, more relatives are responding to the need, caring for the innocent children who’ve fallen victim to the crisis.
“So many kids are not in the traditional family-sense, it’s almost like grandparents are now becoming the norm,” said Cheryl Baker.
Baker is in the process of adopting Lilli, Hailey and Kennleigh.
“They’re not biologically my grandchildren, but they’ve always been my grandchildren,” she said.
Baker says the girls’ parents struggle with heroin addictions.
“They dropped them off September 28, 2016, and haven’t seen them since,” Baker said.
Nonna, as the girls call her, has been their sole provider since that day.
She filed for custody that October and then for full custody in June of 2017. She has a final court date scheduled for January.
“They’re such wonderful, great kids and it’s heartbreaking, it’s hard to see the confusion sometimes and the pain and the wonder,” Baker said.
Baker is just one example of family members raising children since agencies like Trumbull County Children Services started seeing the impact of the opioid crisis five years ago.
Trumbull County Children Services Executive Director Tim Schaffner says that’s when the number of children in their custody jumped by 40 percent in two years.
“The impact on the number of cases and kids in custody was jarring to us,” he said.
There are still about 135 children being cared for by Trumbull County Children Services.
Last year, the agency conducted 210 investigations of serious allegations like abuse and neglect. Shaffner says about half of those cases are related to the opioid crisis and other addiction issues.
“We’re working harder than ever. It tells me the impact on kids is even more serious than we’ve seen historically,” Shaffner said.
But, the agency is finding new ways to help heal families struggling with addiction. Recovery coach Angela Cochran was hired in July.
“I can meet these people where they’re at and help bring them up out of whatever it is that they are,” Cochran said.
She brings her own personal experience to her clients. She once handed over her kids to Children Services while working toward recovery. Now, she has them back.
“It’s no mistake that I ended up here with this position as a recovery coach because this is what I’m passionate about, this is what I live for and if I could just make, you know, somebody’s life, just one person’s life different, then I’m doing something, something good,” Cochran said.
Back at Baker’s house, she’s happy to provide her girls a place to call home.
“They have their beds, their bedrooms and their toys and their pets and their friends and school and it makes a difference,” Baker said.