Lawmakers looking to improve help for kids caught in middle of drug crisis

Lawmakers are looking for ways to improve help available for kids caught in the middle of the drug crisis. (WSYX/WTTE)

The opioid epidemic has killed thousands of people and torn families apart. School officials and people working in social programs met with elected officials Thursday to figure out how to help the children hurt by the crisis.

Rep. Steve Stivers, R - Upper Arlington, met with 40 school and social program officials at the Reeb Avenue Center in South Columbus. President Trump declared a national emergency because of the opioid crisis. Stivers said lawmakers need to figure out what people need.

Job and Family Services officials from across the state told Stivers there are 15,000 children in the foster care system. That's a ten percent increase from last year. They said that is almost entirely because of the opiate crisis.

"The children I have in my home now are a direct result of the heroin epidemic," said Cindi Gremling who has legal custody of four children whose parents struggle with addiction. "We were empty nesters. We have five sons. Our 13th grandchild is on the way. This was not my plan but when you see these little kids out there, what are you supposed to do?"

School officials said they're seeing more and more grandparents and extended family members enrolling children because the parents can't do it themselves.

"The significant mental health and behavioral health issues that we're seeing with kids that are traumatized by the opioid epidemic, it's unbelievable," said Aundrea Cordle with the Fairfield County Job and Family Services. "It's affecting families in so many different ways and when they're coming into contact with us at protective services, they're in crisis."

Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Thursday he wanted more people to sign up to become foster parents. He said he will speed up the background check process in order to get more people in the system.

"It really takes no special background," said foster parent Kate Yonkura. "It's just someone who cares and is really willing to invest themselves in the kids and give them the stability no matter how temporary it is."

DeWine said there are only 7200 foster families for the roughly 15,000 foster children in Ohio.

Stivers said he plans to introduce a bill in the House for more sober housing. That is where addicts could stay after rehab to avoid going back to the same places or people which may have led to them becoming addicted in the first place.

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