A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

The ‘Forgotten Victims’: Rise in substance abuse leading to rise in children needing foster care


By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune contributor

DCCH Center for Children and Families has served more than 3,000 children since it began as the St. John’s Orphan Society in 1848.

In the last 18 months, however, DCCH, which stands for Diocesan Catholic Children’s Home, has seen a dramatic increase in the number of children being referred for foster care. Gene Blair, training/recruiting coordinator for DCCH, said the rise is due, in large part, to the increase in issues related to substance abuse in the region.

“The kids are the forgotten victims,” Blair said. “We know that nine of 10 referrals are because of abuse and neglect and in a large number of them, there is substance abuse is involved. Unfortunately, way too many kids have found parents who have overdosed and we have kids in residential for whom, that is their story line.”

Melanie Sell (left) and Gene Blair  of DCCH Center for Children and Families stand with a cardboard cutout used to raise awareness of the center's children and services.  (Photo provided)

Melanie Sell, left, and Gene Blair of DCCH Center for Children and Families stand with a cardboard cutout used to raise awareness of the center’s children and services. They say the center is in desperate need of foster families and volunteers. (Photo provided)

Because of the increase, the center is in desperate need of foster families and volunteers to keep up with the number of children that are being referred.

DCCH gets about 150 referrals each month and does not have nearly enough foster care families or residential beds to accommodate them all.

“We have three families that are available at the current moment to take kids,” Blair said. “Of all the families that we have, everybody has placements, so we are either going to a family that already has children or they are placed in residential care.”

DCCH, a nonprofit agency, has undergone name and location changes in its more than 160 year history as the methods of care and needs of its children have changed.

It has been located on Orphanage Road in Fort Mitchell since 1963.

Blair said the flagship of the center and the way most people recognize it, is through the residential program.

“Over the years, what used to be an orphanage is now a residential treatment facility and we work primarily with children ages 6 to 14,” Blair said.

Melanie Sell, a therapeutic foster care and adoption case manager and recruiter, said the residential facility has room for about 40 kids and is almost always at capacity.

They normally stay for six to 12 months in an apartment-style living arrangement,” Sell said. “Each has their own room and there is always staff onsite. They are all therapeutic children each and each apartment has its own therapist.”

Therapeutic children are those who require some type of additional care, usually psychological. Children who come to the agency have suffered some type of loss, which can be very traumatic for children at any age.

Foster parents are required to receive training in therapeutic and non-therapeutic care, because issues can sometimes develop or come to the surface after placement.

Guardian Angel School is an on-grounds facility for the exclusive use of residents of DCCH. The school is located adjacent to the residential facility and operates as a separate unit of Beechwood School District. Because the residential unit is a therapeutic facility, the school’s program is directed toward the modification of behavior in an educational oriented environment.

In 2012 The Therapy Center at DCCH was opened on campus to provide quality mental health services to children, adults, couples and families.

The DCCH foster care program was launched in 1999.

The center has some great success stories with foster parents and other families in the community that have adopted children. Earlier this year, DCCH assisted with seven adoptions in one day.

Several years ago Bridget and Mike Striker of Boone County, who had previously adopted a little girl through the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, were looking to adopt another child.

“We were looking for someone who would be an advocate for us and the child and we heard good things about DCCH,” said Bridget Striker, historian for the Boone County Public Library.

“It’s one thing to talk about the need we have, but when people actually see these kids, it really hits home.” — Gene Blair

The couple decided to wait for a couple of years to devote more attention to their daughter, who is now 13 and has special needs.

In the fall of 2012, they committed to DCCH and became recertified as foster parents.

“We were looking for a child that would work well with my daughter’s special needs, so it took a little while” Striker said. “In May 2013, we received a call from our worker who said they had a little girl who wasn’t with DCCH, but could be brought in as an intake through the state.”

The Strikers brought the little girl, who is now 7 years old, into their home as a foster child for about a year until the adoption was finalized in June 2014.

They continue to work with DCCH as resource parents and as members of the recruitment committee.

“We are always celebrating adoptions because that’s a win for a family and a child,” Blair said. “The downside is, if it is a foster family that adopts, we have to recruit other families to fill that need.”

There is no blueprint for foster parenting, but there are some elements that tend to make the transition a little smoother.

“By and large, the people we recruit are your typical average families who are usually faith oriented or service oriented,” Blair said. “If you were to ask me, what is our ideal family, it would be one with children who are a little older and can actually be helpful in the role of a big brother or big sister. Older children, he explained, have a better capacity to understand the situation the foster child that has suffered some type of loss is coming from.”

School-age children are harder to place in foster and adoptive families and there are more of them, so there is a great need in that area.

“A lot of times families come in with an age range in mind and we never pressure them because it is a big decision and it has to be a good fit,” Blair said. “Sometimes we do have families come in and happen to meet an adolescent in our residential program and they click and they end up taking an older child that they never envisioned having.”

DCCH has about 40 children placed in foster care at any given time, a number that is expected to increase to between 50 and 55 this year if enough families can be located.

It is a huge step for families to become full-time foster or adoptive parents and it is not a fit for everyone.

There are, however, opportunities to contribute without becoming a full-time foster family.

The center is in great need of respite parents, who can provide temporary assistance for existing families in the event of an emergency or just to provide a break. This is ideal for those who are considering adoption or foster parenting but are not yet ready to take the more permanent step.

Sell said there are also volunteer opportunities to work with children in the residential program.

“You can mentor a child and have a volunteer relationship or just go out to dinner with them,” Sell said. “A lot of these kids have had no experience with normal family stuff, like going out to eat or going bowling.”

Members of the community who cannot participate directly can help by getting the word out.

“It’s amazing when people hear what the needs are, they are so responsive and they want to help,” Sell said.
One of the more successful outreach programs was the result of a chance encounter of DCCH Program Director Ron Bertsch with a child in the residential facility.

Undated photo of children from the St. John's Orphanage Society, which was merged with other agencies to become DCCH Center for Children and Families (Photo provided)

Undated photo of children from the St. John’s Orphanage Society, which was merged with other agencies to become DCCH Center for Children and Families (Photo provided)

As Bertsch was walking to his car one afternoon, he noticed a child in the window with a sign that read, “I need a family.”

That message resonated with Bertsch and inspired a cardboard cutout campaign. The cutouts, featuring children in the residential program holding similar signs, are located at businesses throughout Northern Kentucky, including several US Bank branches.

“It’s one thing to talk about the need we have, but when people actually see these kids, it really hits home,” Blair said.

There are also opportunities to contribute to DCCH through donations, or by supporting one of the center’s events, such as the annual music festival, which takes place in May.

“It’s a lot of local musicians, some bands, and we have multiple stages set up in the soccer fields here,” Blair said. “There is nothing like sitting on a hillside, enjoying a little music, some local cuisine and maybe a craft beer.”

There are some common misconceptions about DCCH because it is a faith-based facility.

Those wanting to volunteer or be a foster family, for example, do not have to be Catholic or married. Some may think they are too old to help or wouldn’t be a good fit because they have never had children, but Blair says that’s not necessarily true.

“We have had successful placements with a wide range of people,” she said.

For more information about the DCCH Center for Children and Families, or to inquire about becoming a foster family, visit www.dcchcenter.org or call 859-331-2040.


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