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Governor creates council to spur foster-care change

By JIM PROVANCE • Updated Nov 5, 2019 at 8:25 PM

COLUMBUS — A successful foster-care system has to be one that involves the child in its decision-making, said a former Lucas County foster child who’s about to add her own experience to Gov. Mike DeWine’s new council charged with recommending changes to the over-tasked system.

The governor on Monday named 20 foster and adoptive parents, former foster-care children, judges, child welfare workers, and others to advise him and state lawmakers on how to change the system to better serve children. The council held its first meeting Monday and must report back to him with its recommendations by April.

Juliana Barton, now 32, aged out of the system in Toledo at age 18 and has her own ideas of what should emerge from the group. She was only in the system a brief time after being taken permanently from her abusive father at age 17, but she said she was unprepared to leave the system.

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“They were no longer financially supporting me,” she said. “I didn’t have a phone. I didn’t have a car. I did not know where I was going to live. Basically, everything was uncertain.”

There should have been a plan for what was to happen next, and she should have been part of that discussion, she said.

The Children Services Transformation Advisory Council will hold a series of regional public forums across the state. The one covering northwest Ohio will be held on Dec. 9 at the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services’ Children Services office in Bowling Green.

Mr. DeWine encouraged those who’ve had experience with the system to make themselves heard at these forums. He said he would not prejudge what would come out of the council. Some recommendations may require legislative action.

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“Kids have one time to grow up, one opportunity,” he said. “We’re going to do all we can to make sure that they have that childhood. I’m not blaming anybody. These are tough jobs. We’re burning people out because it’s so very, very tough...But we need to take a hard look at how it’s working overall.”

The governor made his announcement in the offices of Columbus-based Highlights for Children magazine.

Mr. DeWine’s first two-year, $69 billion budget held a massive, unprecedented boost in state funding— about $200 million more over the biennium— for family and children’s services and related programs.

“Due largely to the opioid epidemic, our foster-care system is bursting at the seams with children,” he said. “Last year alone more than 90,000 referrals of child abuse and neglect were investigated by local children services agencies across our state. Of those, 53,000 were due, at least in part, to parental substance abuse. Today, over 16,000 Ohio children are unable to live in their own homes because it’s unsafe for them to be with their families. That represents a nearly 30 percent increase since 2011.”

Ohio had previously lagged other states in terms of financial commitment to foster care. The system has struggled to recruit new foster parents and counties have grappled with the increased demands.

In addition to Ms. Barton, who is now with Advocate/Action Ohio & Scholar Network at Columbus State Community College, the council includes others from northwest Ohio — Lucas County Children Services Director Robin Reese and Paulding County Juvenile Court Judge Michael Wehrkamp.

“I look forward to serving at the governor’s request on this advisory board to help the state’s leaders reshape the current foster care system,” Ms. Reese said. “I consider it both an honor and privilege to offer my perspective and hear what others have to offer.”

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©2019 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

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