Report finds racism in Ohio’s children services, agency revamps approach

The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services will revamp its recruiting practices and racial equity training after a report released this month found racial inequity in the state’s children services system.

This will include using virtual reality headsets for vetting candidates and for training children services case workers in scenarios including race equity. A spokesman could not say when all Ohio caseworkers will receive this training.

ODJFS partnered with ChiByDesign and the Columbus Foundation for the study in response to directions from Gov. Mike DeWine to review current practices and racial equity in the system.

Researchers interviewed 17 people — six foster parents, four program administrators and seven emancipated youth who had recently been in the system.

The report highlighted six key findings around disparities in Ohio’s children services system:

  • Black interviewees said they were consistently ignored when expressing concerns about their care or their needs for assistance.
  • Kinship care families — a situation where a biological relative fosters a child — which tend to be Black, are not given the same support given to other foster families, that tend to be white, to address the financial strain of childcare.
  • Young people feel they do not have a say in decisions about their care and this is especially true for youth of color.
  • Foster parents did not feel well-trained to raise children in their care. This was especially true for parents in transracial foster arrangements.
  • Black and mixed-race youth were sometimes exposed to racist foster experiences, including homes where they were called racial slurs, due to a lack of anti-racist requirements for potential caregivers.
  • Few kids who spend a lifetime in the children services system are prepared for adulthood. This especially affects Black children since they are likely to be in the system longer and are more likely to age out of the system than their white peers.

On any given day in Ohio, over 16,000 children are in the custody of a children services agency. Black children are 13% of Ohio’s child population but are 30% of the kids in custody.

Michelle Niedermier, director of Montgomery County Job and Family Services, said her agency recognizes that people of color have disproportionate involvement in Ohio’s child welfare system and is committed to an open dialogue around all aspects of child welfare practices.

“We are moving forward with expanded implicit bias trainings in Montgomery County, and we are currently in the process of engaging a consultant to guide us in the development of our diversity strategic plan,” she said. “A new management position has been announced that will focus on client outcomes, the impact of implicit bias, and disproportionality in Child Welfare that will report directly to the leader of Children Services.”

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