Children Services agencies facing duel crisis of burnout, opioid epidemic

Local News

Kindergarten kids friends arm around sitting smiling

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Bret Crow describes them as stories that will leave you shaking your head.

The Communications Director for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services told WDTN.com on Tuesday many of his co-workers came to the state agency from the local level. With them, they brought the tales, the mental scars and the burnout from fighting a war against fewer workers and the opioid epidemic while trying to protect the children in its wake.

“I’m not sure I can overstate it,” Crow said.

The numbers are staggering – 16,338 children were in custody of local children’s service agencies as of December 2019. In January 2010, the number was 12,116, an increase of 26 percent.

Children in care of Montgomery County JFS

Crow said not only are there more children in custody, there are more investigations and worsening conditions. It’s had the effect of burning out caseworkers when agencies need them most.

Crow said retaining caseworkers is the biggest issue facing children’s service agencies.

“We are in the midst of a longitudinal study on burnout,” Crow said. “The preliminary findings have indicated that caseworker stress is so much it equates to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They’re overloaded with opioid cases and some are just terrible, to see the conditions some of these children are living in.”

Montgomery County Jobs and Family Services had 242 staff as of August 2019, according to the last bi-annual report filed by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services. The department had 177 caseworkers. According to Brianna Wooten of the Montgomery County Department of Communication, the number was down to 165 caseworkers in January.

Child Abuse and Neglect Intakes by Montgomery County JFS

The opioid crisis in Montgomery County peaked in May 2017 with 170 deaths. Those numbers have fallen to an average of 20-30 a month over the last year, but Crow said that hasn’t stopped the addiction epidemic, which continues to drive more children to foster care.

“We’ve invested budget money, funding projects like Ohio START, the Kinship Navigator Program and foster care recruitment and retention efforts,” Crow said. “The whole idea is to turn over every rock to find anyone willing to serve as a foster or adoptive parent, or in a kinship giver role because so many families have been wrecked by the opioid epidemic.”

For information on becoming a foster parent, visit the Foster Care and Family section of the Ohio Jobs and Family Services website.

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