In the past 12 months, there have been about 1,800 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect in Cattaraugus County.
Half or more of the cases involved substance abuse from alcohol to heroin and opioids to methamphetamines, according to Cattaraugus County Social Services Deputy Commissioner Nichole Zink.
The investigations triggered by the record number of reports resulted in Child Protective Services removing children from 107 homes under court order.
The children removed from those 107 homes went into foster care, or more increasingly, relatives — grandparents, aunts and uncles, Zink said.
In some cases, the children go to live with someone unrelated, but who they trust or have a significant relationship with such as a neighbor, a teacher or a coach, Zink said.
Seventeen Child Protective Services caseworkers are on the front lines of the investigations, but the cases reverberate through almost every department in Social Services, Zink explained.
“It doesn’t stop, unfortunately,” Zink said. “We investigate every report. A majority of them are unfounded or did not rise to the level of neglect or abuse. We had to ask for court intervention in 107 cases so far this year.”
One hundred families were found to have neglected their children and seven were accused of abuse, Zink said. She did not elaborate. “We’re on track for a record number of reports,” she added.
New caseworkers have been added to temporarily assist homeless people who may be victims of substance abuse as well as to help them get back on track and to get employment skills. There’s also a new supervisor in CPS to help track increased reports.
A nurse has been added to work with families, especially those whose newborns showed a positive toxicology test result. “They are linked to a nurse for help,” Zink explained.
“With the rise in substance abuse,” more children are staying with grandparents, even neighbors and sometimes teachers, according to Zink.
Since so much attention was given to heroin overdoses and increased opioid use in the past few years, use of methamphetamines, cocaine and other drugs were on the rise.
“There may not be as many deaths from opioids,” but a variety of drugs remain available, Zink said. Many are seeking treatment that is increasingly available — both residential and out-patient.
Social Services tries to help all the victims of addiction — children and their addicted parents or guardian. “We see everything,” Zink said.
Besides helping parents get substance abuse treatment, they may be entitled to medical assistance or help with food and employment training to get back on their feet.
In the meantime, more grandparents will continue to be the caregivers for their grandchildren and more foster care will be needed for children of parents who are substance abusers.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)