Two years ago, while serving as a juvenile court magistrate in Summit County, state Rep. Tavia Galonski said kids as young as 12 that she would have otherwise pulled from their homes were staying put, as long as the child could maintain order.

The reason? Not enough foster families to fulfill the massive rise in demand, fueled by Ohio's opioid crisis.

“That’s a sad and sorry place to be in Ohio,” the Akron Democrat said on Monday. “In Summit County, we were choked. We had no more foster care families.”

House Republican and Democratic leaders joined together on Monday to roll out a handful of new priority bills, including House Bill 8 by Galonski and Rep. Susan Manchester, R-Lakeview, designed to get foster parents trained and licensed more efficiently. The proposal comes on the heels of $60 million in increased funding in the House-passed budget for foster care, double what Gov. Mike DeWine had proposed.

House Bill 8 is designed to provide more flexibility to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services for foster care training plans, coursework and other requirements currently built into state law, while also allowing 20 percent of pre-placement training to be taken online.

 

Other legislation

The House also rolled out bills helping kinship caregivers find assistance in locating support services, helping people attain new certificates in high-demand job fields, and providing long-term funding for clean water programs.

“The people of Ohio need to understand something — these problems are real and they’re all across the state of Ohio,” said Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford. “It’s just not acceptable that we allow young children to raise themselves. It’s not acceptable that we don’t have enough foster parents in this state. It’s not acceptable that we’re not trying to provide the type of job training for young families to compete for jobs.”

Householder talked about a ride-along he did with children’s services in Coshocton County, visiting a mobile home where a 12-year-old girl was, essentially, raising her 8-year-old brother. The parents were gone for up to weeks at a time, and the girl was just hoping the county would stop in and check on her every few days.

“That’s a devastating thing,” he said. “We’re better than this in the state of Ohio.”

In March, the Public Children Services Association of Ohio released a report detailing a crisis in the system, where more than 26,700 children were in foster care at some point in 2018, up more than 3,000 over two years.

Ohio had about 16,000 children in foster care at the time of the report, but only 7,200 foster homes. And about 100,000 grandparents were raising their grandchildren, while the number of children in kinship care increased 47 percent.

Each noting that they were adopted as children, Reps. Janine Boyd, D-Cleveland Heights, and Brian Baldridge, R-Winchester, are sponsoring House Bill 14 to create a kinship navigator program, giving providers a place to go for information and referral services. A similar bill passed the House unanimously last session but never got a Senate hearing.

Ohio needs to “provide as much support as we can to Ohioans who have stepped up to care for children and their families who are in crisis,” Boyd said.

 

Working together

From a political standpoint, Monday’s rollout of priority bills was unusual. Typically, the majority party rolls out its top bills and the minority responds with some level of disapproval, usually arguing they are the wrong priorities.

But Householder and Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, who with 25 other Democrats gave Householder the votes he needed in January to win a contentious speaker’s fight, are continuing to work together, as they did with both the state transportation and operating budgets.

The House leaders also rolled out House Bill 7, which seeks to create a state trust to develop, through bonding, long-term funding for cleanup of Lake Erie and other lakes and rivers. The House-passed state budget already includes $86 million over two years for DeWine’s new H2Ohio program.

The bill “sends a clear and indisputable message that the Ohio House understands the urgency of restoring the vitality of Ohio’s lakes and rivers, and ensuring their sustainability for generations to come,” said Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg.