The Cape Regional Wellness Alliance is working toward the goal of reducing the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACES) in Cape May County, including the communities of Lower Township, Middle Township, Wildwood, and Woodbine. In the fall, the Alliance met with Diane Rhile, the Local Office Manager of the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P). DCP&P serves as the state’s adoption agency. The issues that Cape May County faces—unemployment, a lack of transportation, poverty, and housing—are not unique to our area, so our meeting was to understand the scale to which ACES impact both children in Cape May County as well as the services Ms. Rhile’s office provides.
She explained that approximately 700 children are served by her office, which equals roughly 300 families, and her office receives 75-80 referrals per month. The biggest reason a child is removed from his or her family is exposure to drug-related activities. Additionally, families who are not receiving, or have exhausted, assistance services can become homeless. Children from these families also become eligible for placement in DCP&P’s custody. According to Ms. Rhile, children can experience trauma when they are removed from their families and placed into state care. While DCP&P staff prefer to identify “kin placements” in a relative’s or close family friend’s home, 30% of Cape May County children are in an out-of-home placement, which is higher than the state average. Statistics indicate that among this group, 40% of the children are in state care for 18 months or longer. Children can remain in DCP&P service until they reach 21, however, they can petition for independent living as early as 16 years old.
A trauma-informed approach in Cape May County is necessary, according to her, because many children turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism for the traumatic experience of being removed from their families. We will continue to examine ACES data from around our community to determine how we can best address these needs.