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The Summit County Children Services Confronts with Budget Squeeze in the Midst of the Opioid Epidemic

Ohio is one of the states especially hard hit by the devastating opioid epidemic sweeping the nation and affecting people of all ages, including innocent children. In Akron, Summit County, despite sustained community-level efforts, this abominable public health crisis seems to get worse. According to preliminary data ( January - June 2016) based on police and fire department responses and published by the Summit County Opiate Task Force, the number of opioid-related overdoses reached 858 in Summit County with 348 Narcan ( naloxone) reversals and 72 deaths. In the county, 73% of police departments already carry Narcan and Munroe Falls as well as Summit County Sheriff's Office and Metro Parks are currently in the process of getting this life-saving medication which works by reversing the effects of an opioid-related overdose within a minute.

In the midst of the opioid epidemic, Akron-based Summit County Children Services confronts with a budget squeeze due to a decline in financial resources coupled with a dramatic rise in the number of children under the agency's protection, from an average of 600 children last year to around 680 children this year. This sharp increase in abused and neglected children is largely attributed to the opioid epidemic, with placement costs soaring this year from $1 million to nearly $2 million. This means that the agency, which provides intake and protective services, kinship care and navigator services, various services offered to youth, community education as well as alternative response ( an innovative approach in service delivery that allows caseworkers to engage with families in additional supportive ways), faces an uncertain position in the near future.

According to Summit CountyChildren Services executive director Julie Barnes, the agency, in partnership with the community is fortunate that reserve funds can be tapped to ensure the safety, security, well-being and permanency of all kids served in the short run. Barnes believes that a functioning opioid user, that's able to take care of their children is simply a myth. She added that people suffering from an opioid use disorder are typically difficult to treat and they often relapse; thus kids are left with the agency for longer periods of time.

Chronic neglect of children services by the state of Ohio as well as the ongoing effects of the recession on property value have taken a toll on the agency's resources of revenue. Shamefully, Ohio is last in the country in terms of state support for child welfare services and it seems things aren't about to improve anytime soon. The phasing out of the tangible personal property tax is one of the key factors behind the insufficient amount of state support, as this will cause a $2.5 million hole in the board's 2017 budget. Although this promised a funding cushion for local communities, Republicans in charge of legislation including Gov. John Kasich directed that cushion towards balancing the state budget and left county-level agencies such as Children Services to absorb the loss.

Likewise, the decline in property value across the county will result in a drop of nearly the same amount from Children Services' tax levy, which is its main funding source. The agency's board has estimated it will require taking about $7.7 million from its $23 million reserve fund to meet projected spending of around $52 million in 2017. In the county, state support for child protection services is projected to cover around 10% of available revenue for next year. As property value in Summit County is not likely to increase, a local levy rise is the only remaining option. The Children Services board plans to go to the ballot in 2018 and the last collection year for the current child services levy is 2019.

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