The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

March 15, 2014

Drug abuse is leading cause of custody loss in Ashtabula County

Family, friends step into the void for area children

ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP — Grandparents, uncles, aunts, teachers, coaches, neighbors and guidance counselors are stepping forward for area children who are in need of care.

Drug abuse is one of the leading reasons parents are losing custody of their children, said Ashtabula County Children Services Board Executive Director Tonia Burnett.

Burnett said the ACCSB has experienced a 41 percent increase in cases since 2010 , while having to deal with a 22 percent reduction in state funding.

In addition to parents losing custody of their children, there is a growing number of families taking care of their relatives, Burnett said.

“Since 2007 we have served over 600 families through our Kinship program,” said Kathryn Whittington, community services coordinator for ACCSB.

While a bulk of the custodial care falls to grandparents, there are many  others helping children through dark times.

“As long as they (the people interested in helping) have had some kind of relationship,” Whittington said.

“I have at least a couple a day,” said Jasmine Hopson, ACCSB coordinator of the calls from families seeking help or wisdom on how to handle a child in need of care.

“It’s the drug problem. That’s why our caseloads are up,” Burnett said.

Burnett said 90 to 95 percent of the Kinship child custody cases stem from drug addiction.

The Kinship program is designed to help keep families together with a small amount of financial help from the state and a lot of support for the families.

Some grandparents are caring for children from more than one of their children’s offspring.

“We’ve had grandparents in their 70s with toddlers,” Whittington said. She said there also are great grandparents helping their kids.

The state Kinship program provides financial help to families every six months for up to three years.

Since 2007 there have been 360 families that have received some financial assistance to care for the children.

The first Monday of each month a Kinship support group meets from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the ACCSB offices at the Donahoe Center in Ashtabula Township.

“We have a core group of people that come regularly,” Burnett said.

“A lot of them struggle because they love their own children,” she said.

A state grant helped the Kinship program grow between 2009 and 2012, Burnett said. That grant is gone and the group is attempting to do fund raisers to meet financial needs of the organization, she said.

The increased caseload is challenging the board as it tries to meet the needs of the children in crisis.

“Our foster homes are full. We are going out of the county,” Burnett said of attempts to help area children.

The Ashtabula County Kinship Support Group meets once a month to provide support for people raising other people’s children.

Baby-sitting is provided during the meeting, by Ashtabula County Joint Vocational School students, so participants can focus on helping each other, organizers said.

The next Kinship support group meeting will be held 5:30 to 7 p.m. April 7 with officials from the Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Special needs speaking, Whittington said.

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