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Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is trying to help fix a part of the state’s child welfare system that is broken: foster care. Too many young people get shuffled constantly from home to home, guardian to guardian, parents to foster care and back again. They are denied stability.
Some children are reunited too soon with parents who were not yet ready to be parents again. The issues are stability and predictability, as well as basic safety.
There are 12,000 youngsters in Ohio’s foster care system. Mr. DeWine seeks changes that would make life predictable for the children who are its clients.
Last week, Mr. DeWine issued the recommendations of his foster care advisory group, which includes care advocates, judges, and prosecutors. The attorney general formed the group after a 2-year-old Cincinnati boy was beaten to death by his father after he returned to his birth parents from foster care.
The commission held eight public hearings across the state over the course of a year. Its recommendations include:
● Creating a central registry of medical records for children in foster care.
● Inviting children in foster care to attend their court hearings when they are of an appropriate age.
● Narrowing the state’s Planned Permanent Living Arrangements law, which requires foster parents to reunify children with their birth parents. The report calls for “legislation to limit the permanent living arrangement to those who are truly in a permanent living arrangement.”
Here, Mr. DeWine’s study group has ventured into the most thorny issue in child welfare. Children generally want to be with their parents. Most parents want their kids back with them. The ultimate goal of every state child welfare agency is family reunification.
But the reality is that sometimes parents are not ready to be parents again. They may not be mentally healthy, be free from addiction, or have a home to share with their children. In some cases, they actually pose a threat, albeit unintentionally.
There is no simple and universally applicable rule. But family reunification must not trump the safety and welfare of any child.
Several state lawmakers say they will introduce a bill that would turn most of the advisory group’s proposals into law. Mr. DeWine also announced a $3 million fund for state foster-care programs, to be supported with part of Ohio’s share of the national mortgage settlement.
Some $2 million will help fund the Ohio Court-Appointed Special Advocate program for children, which is in 37 of the state’s counties but not the 51 others. Another $1 million is allocated to Ohio Reach, which helps children in foster care pursue higher education.
Mr. DeWine and his foster care advisory group have done the state a great service. Now the General Assembly must follow through. Children in foster care deserve our best efforts.