Recently one of our members passed along this 2017 article based on the experiences of child protection workers in one overburdened county in Ohio—one of those areas overwhelmed by the spread of opioids. ‘It’s just horrific’: caseworkers break their silence to reveal toll of addiction on children

Read the article by The Guardian, and understand how the well-worn Washington slogans about the need for “budget-neutral” ‘finance reform” to fix the “broken foster care system” may not align with the great challenge many families, children and workers are facing in many communities across the country as they deal with opioids (or heroine or methamphetamine or crack or alcohol):

“In southern Ohio, the number of drug-exposed babies in child protection custody has jumped over 200%. The problem is so dire that workers agreed to break protocol to invite a reporter to hear their stories”…

“Inside the Clinton County child protection office, the week has been tougher than most.
Caseworkers in this thinly populated region of southern Ohio, east of Cincinnati, have grown battle-weary from an opioid epidemic that’s leaving behind a generation of traumatized children. Drugs now account for nearly 80% of their cases.”       –The Guardian

—–The single biggest federal funding source for Child Protection Services is SSBG. Congress and the Trump Administration are likely going to take another run at eliminating all $1.7 billion in SSBG funds—because critics say the funding doesn’t have outcomes.—–

“Foster-care placements are at record levels, and the number of drug-exposed newborns in their custody has jumped over 200% in the past decade.”

… “Many of our children have experienced such high levels of trauma that they can’t go into traditional foster homes,”…

“ Heroin has changed how they approach every step of their jobs, they said, from the first intake calls to that painstaking decision to place a child into temporary foster care or permanent custody. Intake workers now fear what used to be routine.” –The Guardian

—–In 2016 Congress worked on passage of the Families First Act. A bill that would open some Title IV-E funds to intervention services but it was “budget neutral.” It was paid for with cuts in other parts of child welfare, temporarily delaying some adoption assistance payments and restrictions on some institutional care. They did this because the House Ways and Means Committee had a rule of budget neutrality requiring that any new spending come from other programs in that subcommittee jurisdiction (i.e. TANF, SSI, SSBG, Child support, etc.). Less than a year after Families First failed to pass the same Committee passed a tax cut package projected to increase the deficit by $1.455 trillion dollars over the next decade.—–

” Because of the added trauma, removing a child is always the last option, caseworkers said. But in a county with only 42,000 people spread out over 400 square miles, the magnitude of the epidemic has compromised an already delicate safety net. Relatives are overwhelmed financially. Multiple generations are now addicted, along with cousins, uncles, and neighbors. In many cases, a safe house with a grandparent or other relative will eventually attract drug activity.”…   –The Guardian

—–The 2014 Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, which extended some child welfare spending, actually ended up reducing federal spending by $19 million over ten years. Despite that in July 2014, the initial effort to pass it was blocked by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) because it affected the deficit more than 30 years from now. The next day the Senate passed a new payment on Israel’s “iron dome” defense system at a cost of $225 million without an offset. Eventually the Sex Trafficking bill passed in September after some last minute negotiation by the Senate Finance Committee Chair and strong advocacy from some child welfare advocates. Despite that the bill still managed to eliminate a $15 million a year grant that went in part to fund Kinship Navigator Grants and programs.—–

 “Despite what they’ve endured, most children wish desperately to return to their parents. Many come to see themselves as their parents’ caretakers and feel guilty for being taken away, especially if they were the ones to report an overdose, as in the case of a four-year-old girl who climbed out of a window to alert a neighbor.”

“For caseworkers, reunification is the endgame. After children enter temporary foster care, the agency spends up to two years working closely with the family while the parents try to stay sober. The only contact with their children comes in the form of twice-weekly visits held in designated rooms here at the office.”

“With heroin, defeat is something the workers have learned to reckon with. Lately they’ve started snapping photos of parents and children during their first visit together, getting medical histories and other vital information – something they used to do much later…we know the parents probably aren’t going to make it,”…When asked how many opioid cases had ended in reunification, only two workers raised their hands.”…

“The repeated disappointment comes as resources and morale have reached their tipping point. The number of available foster families is dwindling, they said, while the cost of supporting them – over $1.5m a year – has never been higher.   –The Guardian

—–The Child Abuse Prevention Act (CAPTA) is the historic 1974 law that has encouraged best practices in child protection and child abuse prevention. Funding can also be used to strengthen the CPS workforce. The problem is that despite being amended several times since its last reauthorization (2010) to encourage screening for sex trafficking and use of “safe care” plans for infants, Congress provides only $25.3 million a year. It topped out at $27.3 million in 2005. In 2015, PCA-America and CWLA calculated that CAPTA provided 32 cents per child to prevent abuse. In 2017 there were 13 states that received state grants lower than what we pay a member of Congress.—–

“Sprik, the agency’s director, said that all the agency’s budget was paid for with federal dollars and a county tax levy, although they’ve been flat-funded for nearly 10 years.”… “Almost every caseworker said they had experienced depression or some form of PTSD, although no one had sought professional help. The privacy of their cases also means that few can speak openly with friends or family members. Some chose to drink, while others leaned on their faiths. But most said coping mechanisms they once relied on had failed.’ —The Guardian

—–The 2011 the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act, reauthorized the two flexible funding Title IV-B programs Child Welfare Services and Promoting Safe and Stable Families. Some hailed a new waiver authority for HHS to allow flexibility in the use of Title IV-E funds as a way to reduce foster care and make other outcomes improvements Ironically the same bill actually cut flexible block grant funding under the PSSF program by $20 million as a way to preserve the much needed existing $20 million for the Court improvement Program (CIP) funds because Congress was unwilling to find the $20 million a year offset.—–

“Caseworkers have started making “life books” for kids once they come into the system. It’s where they put the photos they’ve taken, plus any pictures of birth parents or relatives they can find, report cards, ribbons and medals – the souvenirs of any childhood. “It’s their history,” Sherry said, “so that one day they can make sense of their lives.” She noted that one kid, after turning 18, tore his to pieces, taking with him only the good memories.” — The Guardian