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DJFS to receive grant money from Ohio AG

Will benefit drug-affected families

The Lawrence County Department of Job and Family Services will receive Ohio START (Sobriety, Treatment and Reducing Trauma) grant money from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office for half of this year and the next two years.

Ohio START is a pilot program that will serve families harmed by parental opioid abuse in more than a dozen southern Ohio counties, including Lawrence County, and will provide specialized victim services such as intensive trauma counseling to children who have suffered victimization due to parental drug use. It will provide treatment for parents of children referred to the program as well.

“Children with a parent or parents addicted to drugs tend to stay in foster care longer, and they enter foster care having experienced significant trauma. While mom or dad are high, these kids may go days without food or supervision. They may have witnessed a parent inject drugs, overdose or even die,” DeWine said in a press release. “By creating this program, we hope to help these 14 counties give the silent victims of the opioid epidemic, the children, the best care possible, while also helping their parents recover from their addiction.”

Funded primarily through a $3.5 million Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant from DeWine’s office that will be shared among the counties for two and a half years, the program will specifically be for helping county child welfare agencies identify children who have been victimized due to parental drug use and provide them with specialized treatment for any resulting behavioral or emotional trauma, as well as offer victim services for parents with underlying victimization that may be contributing to their addiction.

Casey Family Programs, which partnered with DeWine’s office to launch the Ohio START program, is also providing an additional $75,000 for the program. The Public Children Services Association of Ohio will administer both grants.

The Lawrence County Department of Job and Family Services will receive $42,500 for half of the year this year, and $85,000 each of the next two years through the program, with the department matching a portion of the funds.

“This will help the kids get away from situations involving drugs with their families, and will hopefully also help the parents and keep us from having to take their kids,” Terry Porter, director of the Lawrence County Department of Job and Family Services, said. “It will help people that need help, and if they don’t want help, this may be able to force them to get help.”

Randy Thompson, supervisor of the investigative unit of child services at the department, said that, this year, the department has accepted 241 reports, averaging about 70 a month.

Out of those 241, roughly 73 reports have been related to families involving drugs, including seven with babies born drug-addicted.

“Children are the innocent, invisible victims of the opiate epidemic in Ohio. Ohio’s children services system has experienced an 11 percent increase in the number of children removed from their homes and a 19 percent increase in children staying in care longer due to how challenging it is for parents addicted to opiates to successfully recover,” Angela Sausser, executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, said in a press release. “This grant opportunity allows us to pilot a model that could positively improve children’s safety, well-being and permanency with their birth families.”

Ohio START is modeled after a similar program in Kentucky that has resulted in about half as many children returning to foster care due to parental addiction. Parents involved in the Kentucky program were also found to have twice the sobriety rate.

Through the program, child welfare workers will work with a certified peer mentor to meet with each family once a week to ensure the safety of the child and provide support to the parents.

If a child can safely stay in the home during this process, the child can do so with the oversight of caseworkers. If not, the children will have regular visitation with their parents as they undergo drug treatment, which will be paid for by Medicaid or private insurance.

Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Andrew Ballard said that this grant to help the children is very important to the county.

“This is a grant that we’ve never had in the county before. All of these different agencies have been focused on the user and trying to rehabilitate the addicts to be better family members and productive members of society,” Ballard said. “But there’s a whole other little society of people affected by this, which are the children of addicts who get lost in the mix. Some of these parents are out there stealing from their children and not providing them with basic essentials, while they use for whatever reason, either to get high or keep them from having withdrawals. This grant focuses on the children and will give them counseling and try to get their families back together.”

The $3,535,250 in VOCA grants allotted to Ohio START are awarded as part of the “Ohio Attorney General’s Expanding Services and Empowering Victims Initiative,” which was created in 2015 to determine how VOCA funds, which come from federal settlements, fines and fees, could be best spent to serve the victims of crime in Ohio.

The effectiveness of Ohio START will be studied by partners with Ohio State University’s College of Social Work and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University. If the program is found to be a success, it may expand to other counties throughout the state.