Foster care emancipation bill gathering momentum

The latest version of a legislative solution to turning teens in foster care out on their own too soon is headed for an Ohio House vote soon, after receiving overwhelming support in two committees.

When House Bill 50 was introduced in February, the appropriation to extend foster care emancipation to age 21 was $300,000 in 2016 to plan the implementation and $4.5 million worth of state and federal funds. In the version that passed 28 to 3 in the Finance Committee, the new price tag is $550,000 for planning purposes and $24.5 million for implementation.

The federal government passed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act in 2008 that allows the use of federal dollars to expand foster care. As of the end of February, 22 other states have adopted similar legislation.

The primary bill sponsor State Rep. Dorothy Pelanda, R-Marysville, said when she originally introduced the bill it was a phased approach, but with input from others it was determined the state should take it on in its entirety.

“Based upon the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services input, conversation and support, we decided to go up for a full implementation from the very start,” Pelanda said. “The second reason was Job and Family Services advised us that we had not included several aspects of the foster care age system, including an appropriation for adoption assistance.”

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The bill started out in State Rep. Tim Derickson’s new Community and Family Advancement Committee. A bill on the same topic was introduced last year, but it died in the Health and Aging Committee. Derickson’s committee members approved the legislation by a vote of 14 to 1.

The Hanover Twp. Republican said the bill — which provides funding for the continued support of young adults, if they remain in some sort of educational or training program, are unable to work or work at least 80 hours a month — is actually aimed at shortening the time people are on public assistance, in the long run.

Statewide about half of foster children who age out of the system at 18 never get their high school diploma and about a third end up incarcerated, according to Derickson. The goal is to give them the support they need so they can stay in school, eventually get good jobs and not need welfare.

“I believe that members on my committee, if not the general assembly, are realizing we need to approach issues like this on a long term basis, and there are costs associated with it,” Derickson said. “But in the in the end, in the long term, the goal is to ultimately help people off public assistance, not keep them on public assistance.”

Butler County Children Services Director Bill Morrison said there are 63 teens in foster care who could “reasonably benefit” from the bill’s passage. The current rates for foster care start at $9 per day and go up to $170, there are additional per diem stipends for children with special needs and $7,500 annually for clothing, personal incidentals and graduation expenses. Adoption assistance for special needs children is negotiated between children services and the adoptive parents, based on the family circumstances and the needs of the child.

Morrison said he wholeheartedly supports the proposed legislation.

“We’ve long been committed to helping children and youth that are transitioning out of foster care to have successful lives as adults,” he said. “We believe the proposals in HB 50 will help in that regard.”

At last year’s graduation party at Butler County Children Services, graduates Michaela and Merlin both said a law change would be a great help, because the longer kids can stay in the structured environment of foster care the better.

“Mainly because statistics say that a lot of kids don’t even make it this far,” Michaela said. “And with college, they don’t make as far as their potential would lead them — mainly going from one extreme to another. I think it would help us mentally prepare for our future out there.”

Warren County Juvenile Court Judge Joe Kirby said he has seen his share of children who aged out of the foster care system and appear on his criminal docket because they were just dumped into society on their own with no more support. He also pointed out that just because someone turns 18 doesn’t mean they are ready to face life alone.

“There’s nothing magical that happens to them on the day that they turn 18,” he said. “They are still the same kid they were the day before.”

Pelanda said the next stop for the bill is the House floor and that should be in early June, then it moves onto the Senate. It should land in Sen. Shannon Jones’ Committee on Health and Human Services. The Warren County Republican said since the bill hasn’t left the House yet she hasn’t really had the opportunity to really dig into it, but the idea is one she espouses.

“Foster children are some of Ohio’s most vulnerable citizens,” she said. “This is an issue that has needed the legislature’s engagement for a long time, and as lawmakers, we must do everything we can to ensure their well being.”

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