Three years after a federal appeals court ordered Ohio to pay those who assume custody of relatives the same amount it pays licensed foster parents, the Buckeye State continues to severely shortchange kinship caregivers, according to a lawsuit seeking to enforce the order.
As the original lawsuit, D.O. v. Glisson, said: “It’s not optional.”
State officials, including Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and the director of the state’s human services agency have publicly stated their intent to follow the order, as recently as February. But a plaintiffs’ lawyer in that case, which also applied to Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee, got tired of waiting for Ohio to make good.
On Thursday, attorneys Richard Dawahare and Jay Langenbahn, the national advocacy group Children’s Rights and the global law firm DLA Piper filed suit in Cincinnati federal district court on behalf of kinship caregivers in Ohio.
The lawyers say people who voluntarily and generously take on the life-altering task of caring for the children of relatives — very often they are grandparents — are, just like licensed foster parents, responsible for feeding, clothing and sheltering their charges until the children can be reunited with their parents. It makes no sense to pay them less, they argue.
Dawahare, a Kentucky attorney who successfully brought the original lawsuit that resulted in the 2017 ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said in a news release Thursday that “Ohio must follow the law. These kinship families are stepping up and they deserve and are entitled to these payments on behalf of the children.”
The complaint contends Ohio’s failure to pay up causes irreparable harm to the children, especially Black children. They make up 12% of all of Ohio’s kids younger than 18 and 30% of children in foster care. Almost one-fourth of the kids in kinship foster families are Black children, and those families carry an unequal and unfair burden as a result of Ohio’s failure to pay them the full share of maintenance money they are owed, it states.
The money at stake for these families is not trivial. One relative foster family received $474 a month for three children through the federal public assistance or TANF program. If the three children were in a licensed foster home, those parents would receive more than $2,000 a month, according to the Columbus Dispatch in a story in 2018.
The state did not respond on Thursday to the Associated Press’s request for comment on the complaint.