COLUMBUS, Ohio - With the gubernatorial primary just a month away, children's advocates in Ohio have a message for the candidates: it's time to "Foster Hope for Ohio's Children."
That's the name of a set of policy recommendations released by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio that call for statewide leadership and reforms to improve the lives of children and families. Scott Britton, the association's assistant director, said Ohio lawmakers stepped up and invested an additional $15 million in the last budget for child protection. Unfortunately, he said, a lot more is needed.
"Our children's-services system has lost a lot of money over the years," he said. "We continue to be last in the nation for the state's share of child-welfare funding, and we need to make smarter and more investments if we are going to get the outcomes that we want to see for these children and families."
There are about 15,000 children in the foster-care system now, a 23 percent increase since 2013. Britton said that if current trends continue, there could be more than 20,000 by 2020. He added that reforms also are needed to address the overburdened children's welfare workforce, rising placement costs and the need for more supports for kinship families.
The child-welfare system also is caring for kids without a history of abuse or neglect. Britton said some have a mental illness or developmental disability and the parents have nowhere else to turn.
"Parents are relinquishing custody of children into children's-services custody because that is one way that they can pay for the treatment that these children need," he said. "Judges are diverting youths who might normally go into the juvenile-justice system into the foster-care system where we're not really prepared to handle them."
The Family First Services Prevention Act allows federal funding for the first time to be used for measures to help prevent children from coming into care in the first place. Additional state investments are needed to match the federal investments and shore up the foster-care system, Britton said, "to provide better placements for these children; provide services for their families so they reunify more quickly or not come into care at all; and - until we can get ahead of this opioid epidemic - manage this influx of children who are really straining our children's-services system."
Britton said he is hopeful Ohio's next governor will show strong leadership and take on these reforms for children's services.
The policy paper is online at pcsao.org.