Juliana Barton grew up in a “very dark place.”
Abandoned by her mother and raised by an abusive father in Toledo, she finally entered the foster-care system — after a more-serious-than-usual beating — when she was 17.
She was placed with a foster family, but never felt loved. She aged out of the system at age 18, left with no option but to quit high school as a senior to work full-time to support herself. No one was there for her.
The 32-year-old Columbus State Community College student, who hopes to become a physician, now is an advocate for kids like herself: those ensnared in what she calls “an unwelcoming and unforgiving” system.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine shares her concerns about Ohio’s overwhelmed system packed with 16,000 foster children, a 30% increase since 2011 mainly attributable to opioid-addicted parents.
“We have a crisis and must help these kids,” DeWine said Monday. “Children deserve to grow up in safe and loving homes … they have one time to grow up.”
In an event at Highlights for Children’s headquarters, DeWine signed an executive order forming the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council to review the foster care system and recommend improvements by April.
The group consists of foster parents, children services caseworkers and directors, former foster children, adoptive parents, juvenile court judges and state officials.
DeWine successfully lobbied lawmakers to increase children services funding by an unprecedented $220 million in the two-year state budget, but said more than money is required.
He wants recommendations that will make a difference to improve the lives of children in crisis. While parents and children should be reunited when possible, “the safety of the child is always paramount,” the governor said.
Problems include only 7,000 foster homes to serve 16,000 children and high turnover among child welfare caseworkers. One in seven left their jobs in 2016, costing more than $24 million in training and overtime costs, state officials said.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who was adopted as newborn when his birth mother turned him over to foster care, said, “Children need to know somebody loves them, they need to know someone is there for them … we need to fix the system.”
The working group will meet monthly and conduct a series of regional public hearings to solicit public input, including at 6 p.m. on Nov. 21 at the Pataskala campus of Central Ohio Technical College.