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Children services' group tells Congress about crisis among Ohio workers, kids in foster care

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More than half of workers are at risk of mental health problems, and a quarter of kids coming into the system have issues so complex it's hard to place them.

More than half the caseworkers in Ohio’s children services agencies are at serious risk of mental health problems because of what they're dealing with at work. And the complex issues kids in foster care are facing is creating a crisis for many of them too.

That’s according to research presented to Congress by a group that represents Ohio’s public children services agencies.

The COVID pandemic and the opioid epidemic have had a devastating effect on caseworkers, who often fear what they’ll see on the job or even that they’ll be killed on a case, according to Public Children Services Association of Ohio executive director Angela Sausser.

“Recent research showed that 53% of our case workers have some level of secondary trauma, and that level is meeting the threshold of post-traumatic stress disorder," Sausser said at a hearing on February 2 before the US House Ways and Means Committee. The four-hour long hearing featured experts on America’s mental health crisis.

Sausser said Ohio counties are investing COVID relief funds in services targeting essential workers, health workers, law enforcement and human services employees, but that more flexibility in using Title IV-B funds would be helpful. Those funds are designed to keep families together and are named after the late Democratic Cleveland US Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones.

And Sausser noted that one in four kids come into Ohio’s foster care system primarily because of mental illness, a developmental or intellectual disability or as a diversion from the juvenile justice system – including some who have committed felonies.

Sausser says that makes it hard to find residential facilities to bring them to.

“We at times may call 51 to 100 providers until we find a placement, and then if we do find a placement, we could have caseworkers traveling two, three hours away from that child’s home, away from that child’s friends, from that child’s school," Sausser said.

Sausser told the members of Congress that staffing shortages at facilities have made the problem worse. And she said it’s unsustainable, and will mean more trauma for those kids and potentially unsafe conditions for staff and the community.

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