The state of Ohio launched a website earlier this year with information about foster care and adoption to assist those who wish to take in children removed from their biological parents. The website is available at https://bit.ly/2X0Nylo and according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has resulted in inquiries from prospective foster and adoptive parents.
“This new website and public awareness campaign will help Ohioans interested in foster care and adoption better access information about the process with the goal of encouraging more families to open up their homes and hearts to children in need,” said Gov. Mike DeWine. “Every child deserves to grow up in a safe and loving home. Because of the opioid crisis ravaging our state, the need for families is greater than ever.”
“There absolutely is a need,” said Sara Wright, social services administrator for the Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services. “The foster care system has seen an increase of 16% of kids that are in care in the past two years, and available foster homes aren’t increasing at the same rate. It’s increasing, but only by 2.5% … You can see that disparity, and if that continues – we’re already at a shortage of foster homes, that’s just going to become exponential. We have to do something as a system to create a change and recruit those foster parents and adoptive parents to serve the needs of our kids.”
Ohio has nearly 16,000 children in the custody of county children services agencies and a continuing need for more families to care for them. According to Wright, Champaign County DJFS handled placement services for 38 children in 2018, 21 of whom are in the custody of the agency and placed in foster care. The majority of these foster homes are not within the county due to a lack of available homes that can meet their needs.
“One of the things that we see in foster care is sometimes kids get placed significant distances from their actual homes,” Wright said. “They have to enter a whole new school, they’re sleeping in the house of a different family, they’re leaving their peer group. They might be leaving their activities to be able to find a foster placement.”
The new website provides information about both adoption and foster care, their similarities and differences, and about the requirements for getting involved. Wright said foster agencies can work with families to overcome barriers to foster or adopt children. She said the most important quality is having a complete commitment to caring.
“Ohio is really working on recruitment and reform system-wide,” she said. “This was a really good way for everybody to be involved in the effort and for the state to streamline a point place for people to go. It gives a single location for interested families, and for people who previously adopted, to gather resources and information and then they can go to their local agency with some of that beginning information to ask more questions.”
“One of the things I’m excited about is it also has information for families who have already adopted, and I think that’s beneficial because a lot of times if they encounter any questions or needs they don’t always come to us first,” she added. “I think the website is a good place to go to answer some foundational questions and then get back to us so that we can give them some support.”
Stacy Cox, director of Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services, said that in addition to the website there is a Facebook page for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services that has been helpful in recruiting interested foster parents. Wright said that both methods of communication have taken an important step in the right direction.
“We’re hopeful it will bring interest to more families here in Champaign County and that they could start getting in behind the scenes, realizing the guidelines for becoming foster parents and hopefully reach out to us, because we are in desperate need of more foster parents in Champaign County,” said Cox.
Foster care and adoption
Wright said that the goal of the foster parent system is to return children to their birth parents, and that foster parents sometimes work directly with birth parents to teach them skills, offer encouragement, and share information about the children. Most children return to their birth parents or another relative or family friend within a year, once a court determines it is safe for the child to return home, she said.
“If a court determines that it will not be in a child’s best interests to return home or to a relative, then it will terminate parental rights, and the children services agency will work to find a permanent home for the child,” she said. “In most cases, the best permanent option is adoption. The adoptive family could be a relative, a friend of the family, a foster parent or another family not known to the child.”
According to Cox, over 50% of foster care cases have been due to drug abuse in the home, and it is one of the biggest contributors to children being in permanent custody of the agency. Even in cases of drug abuse, the agency continues to do all it can to work with the parents before terminating parental rights, she said.
“While those children are in foster care, our agency is working with the parents they were removed from to try to get them services and rectify whatever caused them to be out of the home, so that they can safely return,” Wright said. “It’s only when they can’t return, because those kinds of things can’t be resolved, that we then would move forward with the legal process that frees children for adoption, because it’s a termination of parental rights.”
The approval process is somewhat different for adoptive and foster parents, with different requirements for each. The Champaign County DJFS has not directly licensed foster homes since 2013, but has a list of agency contacts for interested parents. For more information about becoming a foster or adoptive parent, visit the state website at https://bit.ly/2X0Nylo or call Champaign County DJFS at 937-484-1500.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304