Ohio lacks the resources to help its growing numbers of endangered children and senior citizens. The General Assembly needs to allocate more state aid to adult protection and child welfare.
Last month, the state House passed a budget bill that includes $20 million for woefully underfunded child welfare and adult protective services administered by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. When the Senate considers the bill, it should double that allocation.
Advocates for Ohio’s Future, a nonpartisan statewide coalition that represents 450 public-service organizations, notes that state funding in both areas has been shamefully whittled in recent years. It’s time to renew Ohio’s commitment to its most vulnerable citizens.
“All Ohioans need to feel safe in their homes and communities,” Mark Davis, co-chairman of Advocates for Ohio’s Future, said this month. “Too many children and seniors are abused, neglected, and exploited across Ohio, and many counties lack the resources to keep our children and older adults safe.”
The adult protective services program investigates and intervenes in elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. It gets about $500,000 in funding to cover the state’s 88 counties, said Beth Kowalczyk, chief policy and operating officer for the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
Some counties receive as little as $2,000 annually for these services, even though more than 15,000 cases of elder abuse are reported statewide each year. Officials estimate that the number of actual incidents ranges from 75,000 to more than 214,000, but the vast majority go unreported.
A $20 million state investment would ensure that every county can, at minimum, hire a full-time case worker dedicated to adult protective services, Ms. Kowalczyk said.
Similarly, the state has continued to cut already-scarce funding for the child protective services program, providing less than 10 percent of its overall $314-million annual budget. Ohio ranks 50th in the nation in its proportion of dollars invested by the state for child welfare.
Ohio’s heroin and opioid epidemic has led to overwhelming demand for services, said Gayle Channing Tenenbaum, director of policy and governmental affairs for the Public Children Services Association of Ohio. Of the state’s 17,000 child-welfare cases last year, about 15,000 were related to opiate abuse, she said.
Officials need more money to provide flexible funding to counties that are hardest hit by drug addiction. More case workers could be hired to aid families — particularly helping addicted parents find treatment — in an effort to keep children out of state custody.
Money can’t solve everything, but skimping on children and seniors is a dangerously false economy. Adding $20 million to the state budget for adult protective and child welfare services would better equip Ohio to fight abuse and neglect at both ends of the age spectrum.