CLEVELAND — The number of children needing temporary and forever homes has always been a concern, but now that number is growing rapidly.
“My fear is that the system is being overwhelmed,” said Tom Royer, CEO of Beech Brook, a behavioral health agency. “It’s going to continue to be overwhelmed.”
Royer says among the reasons for the rapid increase is the opioid crisis, which he says is fueling the need for more foster homes and adoption homes.
“In most cases when kids come out of homes the family can be worked with and you can teach them better skills and teach them better parenting and kids can go back home. With the opioid crisis, a lot of the parents are dying. There is no home to go back to,” he said.
The nationwide epidemic is hitting home in Cuyahoga County.
According to Children and Family Services, the county has more than 2,900 children in foster care and the county has permanent custody of 632 of those children. Kathleen Sullivan, senior manager with the agency, says the numbers are the highest they’ve been in the last 10 years. Though it’s not clear how many children are in foster care due to the opioid epidemic.
“We’re playing catch-up to be honest trying to figure out those numbers. We know it’s more. We don’t know exactly how much more,” Sullivan said.
But as more children go into foster care, Sullivan says they’re dealing with limited resources and space.
“We’re having to send our young people from our communities farther out in the state to southern Ohio, to other counties and out of our communities, which is real loss for us in order to keep up with the numbers.”
When that happens, Sullivan says those children “leave their schools, they leave their churches and it makes it much more difficult and traumatic for these young people to survive.”
Royer explained trauma for children can build over time.
“When the trauma is at the hands of your parents whether it be abuse or neglect or your parents passing away, that’s more devastating than most traumas that you might experience in life,” he said. “We won’t really realize the full effect until 15 years in the future when we’re thinking they’re going to be parents and we want them to be responsible citizens, when we want to be successful and they’re not.”
It’s why the need for foster families is important and desperately needed. Granted, Sullivan understands it is not a permanent fix. However, she says fewer people are fostering and adopting due to fear. She says other experienced foster parents are also getting older and unable to care for children.
“I can’t tell what the future will hold. I just know what it holds now and right now we need people and we need foster parents,” she said. “These are kids in our community. These are kids who live in your neighborhood and it impacts everybody in the community and we need from the community to step up and to say I’m willing to help.”
For more information on fostering and adopting children, click here. You can also call the Children and Family services recruitment department at 216-881-5775 to get direct information.
For more information on Beech Brook, click here. You can also call 216-831-2255.