In looking to update the Ohio children services system, an advisory council empaneled by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said more training is needed, particularly when it comes to race, trauma and stigma.
The final report of the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council was released recently, after meeting for the better part of a year and meeting with Ohio citizens who had been a part of the children services system.
The advisory council made specific recommendations related to racial injustice and implicit bias in their report. State data cited in the report said children of color are overrepresented in Ohio foster care, accounting for 32% of kids in the system, despite making up only 14% of the state’s child population.
The group said “actionable, systemic change” will require education, leadership development, hiring and recruitment strategies, policy and practice reviews, empathy training, access to racially and culturally competent services and communities of support.
“Most importantly, all transformation efforts moving forward must utilize data to tell stories, measure access and outcomes, create meaningful benchmarks, monitor progress and promote transparency and accountability,” the report stated.
A 2020 Ohio Department of Job and Family Services analysis of state services showed Black youth are 2.2 times more likely to be referred to children services and three times more likely to enter out-of-home care, compared to white youth.
The report further stated that multi-racial youth are 2.7 times more likely to enter out-of-home care, and 1.8 times more likely to be referred to children services.
The advisory council said all 37 of their recommendations “must be implemented with an equity lens” to improve outcomes for marginalized groups.
The recommendations touched on seven different categories: prevention, workforce, practice, kinship, foster care, adoption and juvenile justice.
Forums were held from November 2019 to January 2020 to gain perspectives from those that had experienced the children services system, according to the governor’s office.
In terms of prevention, the council said investments need to be made in parenting services and training, including access to peer mentoring services from parents who have experience in the system. A statewide, multisystem data exchange platform was also proposed for family support.
“Seamless state and local data sharing will enable government to make data-driven decision and better support the needs of children and family,” the report stated.
The workforce recommendations focused on caseworkers and the stressors they face as managers of children and families.
“Caseworkers can face high caseloads, inadequate supervision, safety concerns, and limited training and resources, all of which can affect the recruitment and retention of qualified staff,” the council wrote in their report.
With that in mind, the council said consistent onboarding programs, reduced organizations and state-level “red tape” and regulations, along with technological advances and a tiered program for caseworkers’ career expansion are vital in rejuvenating the children services system.
The advisory council also said “regional best practice hubs,” consistent screening and a new position as children services ombudsman would improve the practice of the caseworkers and the experience of families in the system.
When it comes to kinship care, the council said stability and permanency should be the goals, prioritizing family connections, including “father engagement,” locating kin via search engines and clarifying “the circumstances under which family-finding efforts may be discontinued.”
A change in language was even in the recommendations regarding kinship and foster families, encouraging a shift to the term “resource parents” to “define those who are providing care to youth in the foster care system.”
Providing rights to those in foster care was important to the advisory council, so much so that thy recommended the establishment of the Foster Youth Bill of Rights, a Resource Family Bill of Rights, and “normalcy standards” for the system.
“Strengthen Ohio statutes to ensure that all children in foster care can engage in a range of developmentally appropriate experiences necessary for health emotional and social development — called normalcy activities — as these experiences help youth build relationships and develop skills to prepare for adulthood,” the council report stated.
Trauma-informed training was recommended in all parts of the children services system, from kinship care to foster care and adoption.
While the council said parts of the system, like recruitment and education, should be expanded, they recommended limiting the Planned Permanent Living Arrangement.
“The Planned Permanent Living Arrangement is essentially long-term foster care and does not represent legal permanency for children,” the report state, adding that the state has existing statutory limits for the PPLA, but should be reinforcing those limits while also looking at the potential for further limits.
In its final recommendations, the advisory council said accountability and communication is needed in the area of juvenile justice. To do this, they encouraged collaboration with the Ohio Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Children and Families, along with evaluation of court-appointed special advocate and guardian ad litem (CASA/GAL) programs and increased guidance for children services court cases.
“Removing the stigma associated with abuse and neglect allegations can increase famile engagement, reduce time to permanency, reduce litigation time, facilitate a focus on solutions and services, and normalize the process of requesting help,” the council’s report stated.