In any given month, roughly 12,000 children in Ohio are in foster care, separated from their biological parents for their protection. Fifteen percent of them spend four years or longer in foster care before they are reunited with family or are adopted. Unfortunately, a growing number of the children, a higher percentage than the national average, reach age 18 and “age out” of the child protective system, without ever being adopted.
The statistics suggest a rough transition to adulthood and independence for these young people who carry the physical and emotional baggage of family dysfunction. About 25 percent will not have earned a high school diploma at the time they can legally to be on their own. Fewer than 2 percent ever complete college. More than 50 percent will be homeless at least once; and about 30 percent of them will end up behind bars at some point.
In the findings of a yearlong study released this week, Mike DeWine, the state attorney general, highlights a pattern of flaws that limit the effectiveness of the system that oversees the well-being of Ohio’s foster children. Child-safety summits around the state identified systemic weaknesses. For example, despite laws that give them the right to advocate in court proceedings regarding children in their care, foster parents find access to the courts is restricted.
State spending for the child welfare system remains low, and county agencies are stretched by tight local budgets. The report also underscores the absence of strong mentorship opportunities for children in foster care, an unfortunate failing. These are the children who most need positive models of adult guidance.
With the report, DeWine also announced a new Foster Care Advisory Group, which will examine the issues uncovered and present its recommendations within 90 days. The responsibility is to provide for all children in foster care a support system that ensures they can overcome their troubled childhood.