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Report outlines goals for Ohio’s child-welfare system - News - The Columbus Dispatch


Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine released a preliminary report on efforts to reform the state‘s children services system, which has struggled with soaring caseloads and workforce burnout.

Reduced caseloads for workers, more support for kinship families and a better focus on both the rights of foster parents and permanent homes for kids are among the many needs identified in a preliminary-findings report released Wednesday by a group working to reform Ohio‘s child-welfare system.

“Our charge is about creating bigger-picture recommendations,” said Kristi Burre, director of the state Office of Children Services Transformation.

The Children Services Transformation Advisory Council, a state-appointed council formed last fall, has hosted meetings across Ohio to gather comments and testimony from families, foster youths, county agencies, private organizations, elected officials and others.

Advocates say that Ohio’s county-administered children-services system has been all but overwhelmed in recent years, with much of the surge in cases tied to an epidemic of opioid abuse.

About 16,000 children are in the custody of an Ohio children services agency each day. Approximately 27% of those are placed in the home of a relative, or kinship caregiver.

According to the report, officials heard from nearly 500 people during the series of statewide forums. The largest number to offer testimony were foster and adoptive parents, followed by current or former foster youths and then kinship caregivers.

Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge Anthony Capizzi, a member of the advisory council, said that “biological parents‘ input has been minimal, at best.” Capizzi said he was concerned that such scant participation from parents involved in the system resulted in an incomplete, or slanted, view.

Burre said Tuesday that her team “is working on a plan to get primary-parent, biological-parent, feedback.”

Capizzi also noted the challenge of balancing different needs: Although children shouldn‘t remain in foster care for years, parents suffering from alcohol or drug addiction often need a long time to recover.

“Each case has to be managed individually, but I believe we need to be focusing on the child,” Capizzi said Wednesday.

Gov. Mike DeWine has made child welfare a focus for his administration, which successfully lobbied legislators to nearly double children-services funding to $220 million in the current two-year state budget.

DeWine received the preliminary report Tuesday and expects a final set of recommendations this spring or summer. He said he hopes that Ohio will be able to recruit and retain more foster parents by “giving them more of a voice” in the cases of children placed in their custody.

“If they have a child in their care for a year or more, we should treat them equally with an uncle or aunt the child may not have had much contact with,” he said.

DeWine also said that Ohio has to do more to assist caseworkers in county children services agencies because they suffer high rates of burnout.

In addition, the state should address the difference in financial support between kinship caregivers and foster parents, the governor said.

“The most important thing is always the best interest of the child,” DeWine said.

Dispatch Reporter Randy Ludlow contributed to this story.

rprice@dispatch.com

@RitaPrice

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