Having four children of her own didn’t stop Kate Yonkura of Delaware County from recognizing the need, raising her hand, and stepping forward to become a foster parent.
“I’m a professional mom,” she says. “It’s what I was called to do. And these kids need a safe place to be.”
Too many children in our state who are displaced by their parents’ opioid addiction “need a safe place to be.” They’re caught in the child welfare crisis that’s driven largely by Ohio’s opiate epidemic.
We hear repeated reports about parents overdosing in front of their kids at home, in restaurants, grocery stores, even in pick-up lines at elementary school parking lots. The children, some of whom are infants or toddlers, are left alone, endangered by their parents’ neglect.
As the number of addicted parents climbs, so does the number of children placed into the child welfare system. And the gap between the number of available foster families and the rising number of children entering the child welfare system because of their parents’ drug addictions is only getting wider. Some sobering statistics confirm this fact:
• Half of all children in foster care are estimated to be there because one or both of their parents are drug addicts.
• Nearly 3,000 more children are in the child welfare system today than when the opioid crisis began seven years ago.
• More than 15,000 children were in Ohio’s foster care system as of Aug. 5.
• Only 7,200 foster families are available in Ohio to fill this need.
My office is working on solutions.
For example, in March we launched a $5 million, 2.5-year pilot program – Ohio START (Sobriety, Treatment, and Reducing Trauma) – which is an intervention program that will serve children and families harmed by parental opioid abuse in 18 southern Ohio counties. Ohio START will provide intensive trauma counseling to children who have been abused or neglected due to parental addiction and will also make drug treatment available to the parents of children referred to the program.
I am also calling on Ohioans to consider becoming foster parents. I encourage you to open both your heart and your home to a child or children who could heal, grow, and hopefully thrive in a stable, loving environment. To help potential foster families, we’ve taken steps to make the process easier:
• We’ve created a webpage on the attorney general’s website (www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/fosterfamilies) where you’ll find important information about becoming a foster family.
• We’ve set up a dedicated email address to expedite the required background checks for foster parent applicants (email@example.com).
• In August, my office announced another $1 million grant to the Waiting Child Fund to help child welfare agencies in 10 hard-hit Ohio counties fund staff to help recruit new foster families.
Kate Yonkura is quick to dismiss the notion that she’s somehow a “supermom” or in any way exceptional because she agreed to become a foster parent.
The only difference between her and other potential foster parents, according to Kate, is that “I said ‘yes.’”
Mike DeWine is serving his second term as Ohio Attorney General.