COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday detailed the foster care initiatives in his proposed Executive Budget for Fiscal Years 2022 and 2023. The initiatives focus on improving the state’s foster care system, expanding existing programs and children services, and prioritizing the best interests of children.
“We started our budget conversation by talking about our ‘Investing in Ohio Initiative,’ which will bring renewal and recovery across Ohio,” said DeWine. “We are continuing that conversation today by focusing on investments that will transform – for the better – the lives of vulnerable children throughout Ohio. The foster care system is at the top of my list for improvement.”
While serving as Ohio’s Attorney General, DeWine highlighted the opioid epidemic and one of its largest repercussions: children being robbed of their parents. In many communities, an entire generation of children has experienced trauma from parental substance abuse.
As a result of the opioid crisis and related impacts, over 15,000 children are in the custody of county children services agencies today. More than 3,000 children await adoption.
Along with historic investments to improve children services, DeWine formed the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council in 2019 to review Ohio’s foster care system.
The council is made up of a wide range of families, youth, former foster youth, and subject matter experts from across the state. From November 2019 to January 2020, members held 10 forums to hear from hundreds of Ohioans about their experiences with the children services system and their ideas for its improvement.
The council’s final recommendations were released in November 2020.
DeWine was joined by Danica Pingle, a peer mentor in the OhioSTART program.
After losing custody of her son during a period of substance abuse, Danica recovered and was given a second chance at having a healthy relationship with him. Today, she remains in long-term recovery while helping other parents and holding them accountable throughout their own paths to recovery.
“My addiction took me down multiple dark paths, and ultimately to child welfare cases where I did lose custody of my son and my complete identity,” said Pingle. “It wasn’t until years later when I did get sober that I was able to start healing our family and building a relationship with my child. Today, I get to use that experience to work with parents who get into the child welfare system, or identify that they have substance use problems.”
Based on the recommendations of the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council and stories like Danica’s, Gov. DeWine has proposed the following appropriations in the state’s biennial budget for Fiscal Years 2022 and 2023:
• $32 million ($16 million per fiscal year) to expand the OhioSTART program, which provides specialized services to families, particularly children who have suffered victimization due to their parents’ drug use. OhioSTART is currently receiving $10 million annually from the state.
• $24 million ($12 million per fiscal year) to advance a partnership between the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, a child-centered adoption program established by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in 2004. Governor DeWine hopes to bring this program to every county in Ohio. To date, more than 1,000 children have been adopted through Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, which aims to help children who have been in foster care the longest. It currently receives $3.5 million annually from the state.
• $10 million ($5 million per fiscal year) to strengthen foster parent recruitment throughout the state. Currently, 8,000 families are licensed to provide foster care for Ohio’s 15,000 children in county custody. This recruitment effort will ensure that all these children will have a safe, loving, and well-trained family to care for them.
• $10 million ($5 million per fiscal year) to implement evidence-based programs that prevent children from having to enter foster care. These programs will extend a helping hand to vulnerable parents and youth through mental health or parenting support services, access to basic everyday needs, and more.
• $1.5 million ($500,000 in FY22; $1 million in FY23) to recruit and train college students interested in pursuing careers in children services by expanding Ohio’s University Partnership Program. Children services workers are essential, yet many county public children services lack the workforce to meet the needs of children and families.
• $1 million ($500,000 per fiscal year) to create a statewide ombudsman to provide accountability and transparency in Ohio’s foster care system. An ombudsman will ensure justice for everyone impacted by the children services system through independent investigations into allegations of wrongdoing.
“While change won’t happen immediately, I strongly believe that these investments will transform our foster care system to be more compassionate and child-focused, so it can better care for our most vulnerable children,” said DeWine. “These investments will build on our existing policies and initiatives to ensure that no Ohio children are left behind and that all kids have the opportunity to reach their God-given potential and live healthy, productive lives.”
DeWine’s Executive Budget proposal also includes:
• Language to create a Bill of Rights for foster youth and families, so all parties involved with foster care are empowered to exercise their legal rights.
• An overhaul of Ohio’s training, technical assistance, and professional development programs for the children services system. This overhaul will help refocus professional development on the use of best practices, including:
— Prioritizing the best interests of individual children.
— Not letting children languish in care without a plan for permanency.
— Training all children services workers in implicit bias and trauma-informed practices to ensure families, regardless of race, are treated with care and respect.
— Reducing disparities and making sure children are removed from dangerous situations by bringing uniformity and high standards to all 88 county public children services agencies when they make decisions about reported concerns for abused and neglected children.
The proposed Executive Budget “blue book,” including Gov. DeWine’s full budget recommendations and budget highlights, can be found at budget.ohio.gov .