GREENVILLE — Rebecca James is Social Services Administrator at Darke County Job and Family Services (JFS). She started out as a case worker for the organization over 23 years ago.
In their efforts to ensure child safety, workers at Darke County JFS investigate reports of abuse and neglect. If a report is found to be warranted, they may file a complaint in juvenile court, resulting in the children involved either being placed with a relative or family member, or being taken into the agency’s custody. In marginal cases, the children may remain in the home while the family receives various forms of assistance, such as help finding shelter in the case of homeless families, or help for parents whose use of physical discipline may not quite have reached the level of removal, but is getting close to crossing the line.
Children removed from their parents’ household who are unable to be placed with a family member are often put into foster care. James’ agency assesses applicants for foster care and licenses fosters, with the approval of Ohio Job and Family Services. Licensure requires several hours of training, finger printing, a background check, and “very personal questions” about an applicant’s life, according to James, and fosters must be recertified every two years. Foster care applicants may be single or married, with or without kids, as long as they are at least 21 years of age and possess adequate income to help support a foster child.
Once a child has been removed from the home, parents generally have two years to successfully reapply for custody before parental ties are permanently severed.
The opioid crisis has definitely had an impact on the types of situations JFS is forced to become involved in, according to James. Out of 91 children either in custody or other protective service in 2016, about 49 percent were because of drug-related issues. Out of 54 cases between January and September of 2017, 45 – more than 83 percent – were drug related.
“Parents are taking their children with them to buy drugs,” James said. “Parents are using drugs in front of their children. Parents are overdosing in front of their children, or even with their kids in the car.”
James stressed that substance abuse also has ties to domestic violence, including physical and sexual abuse.
“People do things under the influence that they would not otherwise do,” James said. “People do things and don’t remember doing them.”
In addition, James said, older children exhibiting unruly or delinquent behavior can often be attributed to these kids being in a drug home. And increasing numbers of children are being born with drugs already in their system.
“According to Ohio law, any infant with a postive illegal drug screen is considered to be an abused child,” James said.
In many of these cases, according to James, the parent’s addiction has taken over, preventing them from providing basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing to their kids. Such children are often poorly socialized, unable to speak or read well, and are always on the lookout for what’s going to happen next, because their lives are already so unpredictable.
As far as the number of foster homes available, James said the agency is “maintaining,” with a majority of licensed homes in Darke County currently being full.
“We can always use some additional families,” James said.
Regarding the drug problem, James had sobering words to offer.
“It’s here, it’s an epidemic, and it’s taxing every system that’s out there,” James said. “Families, healthcare, law enforcement. The cost is very high, most importantly the cost of children having to be separated from their parents.”