How should the foster care system be reformed in Ohio? Timothy O’Hanlon

It is a life-changing commitment to provide a permanent family for a traumatized child in Ohio’s foster care system.

Yet when prospective adoptive parents persist in advocating for sufficient federal adoption assistance on behalf of the disabled children in their care, a number of Ohio County child welfare agencies respond by threatening to place the child with strangers in another family.

The prospect of inflicting further loss on an already traumatized child is an appalling betrayal of the agency’s core responsibility to support the forever families of Ohio’s most vulnerable children.

In over 30 years of advocacy, adoptive parents have repeatedly brought this appalling practice to my attention.

Over 70% of children adopted through Ohio’s public foster care system are adopted by their foster parents.

Imagine if the Smiths were allowed to adopt their two adopted children.

For three years, they provided a safe and stable home for the children, after heroin ravaged the lives of their biological parents.

The children receive specialized foster payments due to their high levels of care, which include developmental delays and attachment issues.

Continued: DeWine seeks budgetary funds for ‘more compassionate’ foster families and adoption services for children

the Title IV-E Adoption Assistance Program (Grant) is designed to enable suitable adults from a wide range of economic circumstances to provide permanent families for children who would otherwise remain in foster care.

Research tells us that adoptive parents are people of relatively modest means. A 2005 Health and Social Services Assessment concluded, “Adoption grants are perhaps the most powerful tool through which the child welfare system can encourage adoption and support adoptive families.”

Surveys indicate a majority of adoptive parents view adoption assistance as essential to providing families for their children with disabilities.

Unlike other federal programs, the amount of monthly adoption assistance payments is determined by negotiation between the adoptive parents and the public body responsible for placing the child.

federal dollars cover 64% adoption assistance payments up to the rate of childcare assistance. Subtracting the small state match and the 64% federal share, a monthly adoption assistance payment of $700 would cost the county agency about $162.

Continued: Advocates: Ma’Khia Bryant case shows loved ones need same resources as other adoptive parents

Suppose Mrs. Smith has quit her job as a pediatric nurse to provide more extensive care for children, and agency records indicate that both girls are making significant progress.

She tells the agency that a slightly lower monthly adoption assistance allowance than foster children would not replace her annual salary as a nurse but, combined with their remaining family resources, would allow them to meet the daily needs of children, while continuing to solve their learning and adjustment problems.

The agency retaliates with a proposal that represents less than half of foster care payments, which would reduce monthly support levels by hundreds of dollars.

The Smiths provide additional documentation for therapists on the adjustments they need to make to support children’s growth and development.

Instead of continuing to hire the Smiths, the agency plans to find a new family for the children if a deal cannot be reached.

Continued: Help available for young people leaving foster care during a pandemic

For children who exit the foster care system at 18, the consequences are historically grim, with high rates of homelessness, incarceration and unemployment.

This long-standing tragedy was the focus of Governor Mike DeWine’s Advisory Council on Children’s Services Transformation in 2019-20.

Investing in adoptive families provides crucial support to former foster children who are going through the difficult transition to adulthood.

Yet the threat of removing children if adoptive parents insist on sufficient adoption assistance persists. The state could put an end to this reprehensible practice with a simple change of administrative rule.

Columbus resident Timothy O’Hanlon holds a doctorate in educational history and policy from the University of Illinois. He worked as a policy analyst at the Ohio Department of Employment and Family Services. He remains involved as an activist for many public policy issues.

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