Opioid crisis puts a strain on Cumberland County Children and Youth Services

CARLISLE, CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. -- The youngest and most vulnerable victims of the heroin epidemic often find themselves caught up in the crisis, through no fault of their own.

In Cumberland County, a rising number of children affected by their parents drug use is putting a strain on Children and Youth Services.

Few people at the Cumberland County Human Services building are immune from being touched by the heroin epidemic, one way or another.

Cumberland County Children and Youth Services may seek an unlikely place affected by the opioid crisis, but the most innocent victims of the epidemic are often children.

Cumberland County Children and Youth Services social services director Nikki McElwee said "it's very sad, it's putting them in different foster homes, and taking them out of that family group, that family environment."

McElwee reports that three out of every four kids the department places into foster care is because of their parents drug use.

"When I see these increases, the case load size goes up. When the case load size goes up, the stress goes up. We need to somehow balance out this crisis that's impacting the staff, to bring caseload size down," McElwee said.

The high turnover of a stressful job protecting the health and welfare of children in Cumberland County, means the office is often short staffed.

"We have about 47 case workers, I would love to have probably 30 more case workers, I don't know that that's going to happen," McElwee said.

McElwee now is asking for the state to provide at least five more staff members to help.

"Unfortunately, last year, I did ask for seven positions, and I was only granted one," McElwee said.

If the unresolved state budget isn't able to cover the cost of additional staff, the county may have to pick up the tab.

"I can't not place a child that needs placement. Some of the other human services when they run out of money for services, they run out of money, my agency deals with safety of children, so we can never stop," McElwee said.

Cumberland County's Children and Youth Services isn't alone in dealing with overloaded workers and staffing shortages.

"Every children and youth agency has seen an increase in staff turnover. Last year we had 30 percent staff turnover, this year we're at 27 percent. That's what's really concerning," McElwee said.