CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - The number of kids placed in foster care continues to increase as the opioid crisis worsens in Ohio, but there aren't enough foster care families to meet the need.
It's a heartbreaking problem, many people probably don't realize is happening all around them. There are more than 15,000 kids in Ohio's foster care system, but only 7,200 families to take them in.
"It's unbelievably heartbreaking, but it's also unbelievably rewarding when you see a kid come through the other side whole, because you know you've helped," said foster parent Michelle Lynn Pankratz.
Watching Pankratz play with her kids, it's clear she hasn't only changed their lives, but they've changed hers as well. Pankratz and her husband wanted to adopt. It was then they realized the critical need for foster families in Ohio.
"First and foremost, these are kids, that's the plain and simple reason. These are kids who have a need," she said.
Pankratz and her husband brought home Christina when she was just days old. They fostered her and ended up adopting her. Since then, they've fostered two more kids. They also are in the process of adopting Malachi, who's currently their foster son.
The family also fostered another child who went back to his parents. "That was the bitter part of it, is that you're part of this child's life and all you can hope for is that you've made a difference," Pankratz said. "To have the ability to help a family as a whole is a huge, huge thing."
Help is exactly what foster kids need. They need a place to call home and a loving family to take care of them.
"They don't deserve most of what the world gives them today, but the opportunity is there to change that, and that's huge," Pankratz said.
More and more kids are entering the system as the opioid crisis worsens.
"It's awful. It's awful. I mean, where do they go? Where do they go?" Pankratz said.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is urging Ohioans to consider becoming foster parents as the need for foster families has dramatically increased in the face of the opioid epidemic.
"There is a growing chasm between the number of available foster families and the increasing number of children who enter the child welfare system because one or both of their parents are drug addicts," said DeWine. "Today I want to issue a call to Ohioans who may be interested in being a foster parent. I ask them to make that leap and open their home to a kid or kids who could use a stable, loving home."
DeWine noted statistics on how the opioid epidemic has impacted Ohio's child welfare system, including:
- An estimated half of all children in foster care are there because one or both of their parents are drug addicts.
- There are nearly 3,000 more children in the child welfare system today than when the opioid crisis began seven years ago.
- As of August 5, more than 15,000 children were in foster care in Ohio.
- Ohio has just 7,200 foster families to fill this need.
Thursday DeWine announced $1 million in grants will go to child welfare agencies to fund staff and help recruit new foster families in hard-hit counties.