Child Welfare

It’s time to reimagine how we create safe and supportive environments for children removed from their families.

July 16, 2020 | Ohio

It’s time to reimagine how we create safe and supportive environments for children removed from their families

July 16, 2020

By Kim Eckhart, KIDS COUNT Project Manager

A lack of placement options has been an ongoing concern across the state. Now, with COVID-19 causing many foster parents to close their doors, creating new solutions is more important than ever.

Last week, Sonia Emerson led a demonstration outside of the Cuyahoga County children’s service building with other youth advocates with lived experience in the foster care system. In response to a report that a child spent weeks living there, Sonia said,

It is our job as leaders and community advocates to step into action and address things that impact the safety and well-being of EVERY child. We as young people are sick of being blame-framed into why we are sitting, sleeping and waiting for a substantial amount of time to secure placement “[They’re] too difficult so it’s hard to find and maintain placement” “[They’re] too old no one wants to house a older youth or juvenile with a history like theirs” this is the perpetuated stigma and poor excuses you hear day in and day out about why we are failing as a system to ensure EVERY young person has a safe, stable and loving place to lay their heads at night.”

The advocates recommend that each county adopt a policy that no child should be housed in a county building and that each county should have an emergency plan in place in the event that a traditional placement is not immediately available.

Proposed federal legislation, the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act, would provide the funding necessary to make dramatic changes so that no child will have to spend weeks living in an office building again. Funding provided could further support our children in the following ways:

  • Make COVID-19 testing available to all children and staff and families should be encouraged to evaluate new placements after being informed of test results and a child’s willingness to observe stay-at-home practices.
  • Provide access to Broadband internet and devices so that children can continue to have contact with friends and family while observing stay-at-home practices.
  • Enhance technological and staffing resources for family search and engagement efforts, specifically by expanding the 30 Days to Family pilot.
  • Provide access to caseworkers for a statewide searchable database that allows a more streamlined approach to identifying placements. The traditional process of making phone calls is inefficient.
  • Dedicate additional staffing resources to foster care recruitment efforts.
  • Allocate funding to develop online resources for licensing foster families, including online training modules and document management.
  • Urge agencies to dedicate funding to re-envision the “last resort” placement: instead of a couch in an office building, create appropriate living spaces and a staffing model that provides appropriate care.

People who are considering becoming foster parents should be able to receive training efficiently and begin providing safe and supportive homes for children as soon as possible.  Proposed state legislation, House Bill 8, addresses barriers to recruiting and licensing foster families. It allows the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) to establish minimum training hours, rather than having a statutory requirement and would permit up to 20% of pre-placement training to be provided online.

With these changes we can avoid having children waiting too long for placements.

“When I was a ward of the state I too spent the night in that cold, sterile unwelcoming room holding my baby sister in one arm and my little brother in another for nearly 16 hours waiting on a placement. As children who have experienced an incredible amount of trauma this is the LAST thing any child should have to experience especially from a system that removes us from our own families in many cases due to neglect or safety reasons quote on quote with the promise that they will PROTECT US and then turns right back around and makes us feel more unsafe and alone,” said Sonia.

The pain and trauma of Sonia’s experience, though occurring years ago, is a reminder that these changes and improvements in our child welfare system are critically needed and there is no time to lose.