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Stories of Children and Youth

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Ohio foster care system flooded with children amid opioid epidemic

On a winding trail in southeastern Ohio, four children symbolize the devastating consequences of the opioid epidemic.

Delaney, Liam, Finnian and Connally are living with their aunt Suzanne Valle now. She and her husband are raising them as their own because their parents are heroin addicts.

"It's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking to see that parents will take the drugs over the children," Valle said. She is talking about her own brother.

"What do you tell those children about their parents?" Reynolds asked.

"I tell them that their parents love them, but they just are not able to take care of them," Valle replied.

She is raising a fifth child, a boy named Ronny who just turned one. His mother is an addict somewhere in town.

It is estimated that due in large part to the opioid catastrophe, at least 2.5 million children nationwide are being raised by grandparents or other relatives. But some have no relatives who will take them in, and go directly to foster care.

"We think about 50 percent of the kids who are in foster care in Ohio are there because one or both parents are in fact drug addicts," said Mike DeWine, the state's attorney general.

Across the state, 14,000 children are in agency custody – up 14 percent in five years. Case workers are stressed to the limit.

"We're removing one to three infants a month that are born addicted to drugs," said Jill Wright, executive director of Children's Services in Adams County. "Those infant mothers? A lot of them we never see again. They never come to visit. They just leave their child and continue on with their addiction," she said.

"You've been doing this for 26 years. Is the current situation the worst you've ever seen it?" Reynolds asked.

"Yes," she said.

Suzanne Valle agrees that this is not a gathering storm. Instead, the storm is upon us.

"I do do foster care. But it's almost like it's not enough because there are so many kids who need somebody," she said.

Kids like Jack, who has been in and out of foster care four times:

"I called my dad one day … and I was like, 'Dad … why can't you just try and get me.' And he was like, 'I just can't stop,' like the drugs overtook him," Jack said. "And I was like, 'You're one messed up dad, to pick drugs over your own kid.' And I just hung up."

There are thousands more just like him.

 By Dean Reynolds.

7 August 2017 


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