Ohio Extension of Foster Care to 21 “Very Likely,” Advocates Say

A year after an initial attempt to raise Ohio’s age limit on foster care failed, supporters of an Ohio bill to expand foster care have drawn increased attention to their movement with some significant public displays.

Ohio House Bill 50, which died in committee last year, would take up the federal government on an offer to share the cost of including 18- to 21-year-olds in the foster care system.

That offer has been on the table for all states since 2008, when former President George W. Bush signed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act into law.

Ohio would be the 27th state to establish a federal-state partnership for foster care extension.

Ohio child welfare advocates, led by an organization called Ohio Foster Connections, have used an online petition to build support for an expansion of foster care to age 21, and in June used the petition website to organize a call-in day to push for political support. The petition has garnered 7,401 signatures as of today.

In early July, the editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealer weighed in with support for the advocates: “The state will have to spend a little more than $10 million to create and implement the program. It’s well worth it.”

The bill is expected to come up for a vote in late September, said Mark Mecum, executive director of the Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies. Mecum said the bill has bipartisan support in both chambers, and has backing within the administration of Gov. John Kasich (R).

“It is very likely this bill can pass into law,” Mecum said. “The administration is already planning for implementation.”

The only political snag, he said , might be a section of the bill that is unrelated to the foster extension. It mandates the courts to disseminate a “bill of rights” to any adult wards of guardians assigned by judges.

“The has caused — I don’t know if controversy is right word — but questions about separation of powers,” Mecum said.

The federal Fostering Connections Act came about to facilitate an easier transition to adulthood for youths turning 18 in foster care. Research suggests that those youths are highly at risk for experiencing homelessness and crime in the years after “aging out.” Conversely, the odds of postsecondary success for those youths are dismal.

About 1,000 Ohio foster youth age out into adulthood each year.

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