COLUMBUS — After nearly doubling state funding for county child-services agencies in the current budget, Gov. Mike DeWine has proposed boosting support again in an area he said had gone underfunded for too long.
“These children only have one chance to grow, so it’s imperative that we get this right,” Mr. DeWine said.
There are more than 15,000 children in Ohio’s foster care system, including 3,000 of whom are eligible for adoption. He said the system for too long focused on the rights of adult parents rather than what’s in the best interests of children.
He cited instances in which children were reunited with families when it was still unsafe to do so or were taken from foster parents, the only parental figures they’d ever known, to be placed with unfamiliar relatives.
Among the funding highlights over the two years:
—$60 million for kinship caregivers — relatives temporarily taking care of children — while they work toward licenses as foster care parents.
—$32 million, up from $20 million, to expand Ohio START, providing specialized services to children victimized because of parental drug abuse.
—$24 million, up from $7 million, to bring Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, a program operated by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, to every county child services agency. The idea is to have one person in each county whose sole focus is finding permanent homes for children legally ready to be adopted.
—$10 million to recruit more foster parents above the roughly 8,000 already licensed.
—$10 million for a new program to offer mental health, parenting support, and other services to avoid placing children in the system in the first place.
—$1.5 million, up from $1.1 million, to expand recruitment and training of college students interested in careers in child services.
—$1 million to fund a new ombudsman to pursue allegations of wrongdoing.
The budget also helps those aging out of the foster-care system when they reach the age of 18, providing housing and other assistance. Federal coronavirus dollars also target this population.
“That has been a priority for the administration throughout the pandemic,” said Kim Murnieks, state budget director.
The Republican governor said his administration has asked state colleges and universities to prioritize young adults coming out of the foster-care system.
The next two-year budget is currently with state lawmakers. A final plan must reach the governor’s desk by the time the current fiscal year ends on June 30.