A dozen children died across Ohio between 2014 and 2018 from abuse or neglect after children who had been removed from their homes were returned to their parents or caregivers. The deaths have renewed criticism of the state’s patchwork system of child welfare agencies that educators, foster parents and elected officials say operate with little oversight or accountability and prioritize family reunification above all else. Some of the deaths reflect the devastating consequences of an opioid epidemic that has reshaped everything from how children are raised to how they are being taught in school. Nearly 4,900 people in Ohio died from unintentional overdoses in 2017 and nearly 27,000 children were taken from their homes last year, with addiction a leading reason for their removal, the New York Times reports.
In one case in Scioto County, a two-month-old boy died of “homicidal violence” and his parents, Jessica Groves, 40, and Daniel Groves, 42, have pleaded not guilty to murder, kidnapping and other charges. The county has the state’s highest rate of babies born with the opioid withdrawal condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, and the foster care placement rate is more than double that of the state’s average. Last year in Ohio, which in 2017 had the second-highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in the nation, there were about 7,700 qualified foster homes for the 27,000 children who needed them. About a quarter of those children were placed with approved relatives or other adults deemed “kinship” — coaches, teachers or family friends. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services found that 77 of the state’s agencies failed to meet federal child welfare performance standards in 2016. “People really don’t understand how broken the foster care system is,” said Adam Smith, a former foster parent and a founder of Every Kid Deserves a Voice, an advocacy group.