More than a hundred children have died while in the custody of the Ohio foster care system in the past seven years, an investigation by local news outlet 10TV found.
Fifty-five of the 128 deaths occurred within agencies run by the state’s three largest counties: Cuyahoga, Hamilton and Franklin — where Ma’Khia Bryant was killed last year — the report states.
In Franklin County, many of those deaths were the result of gun violence. Other children have died from drug overdoses and car crashes.
The four-part investigation details a number of failings in the state’s child welfare system. Among them is the continued use of private behavioral health residential facilities that have a documented history of abuse, violence and children running away. In February, a 14-year-old was found dead from a gunshot wound after running away from one such facility.
Sixteen year old Ma’Khia Bryant’s death by police shooting outside of her Columbus, Ohio foster home in April 2021 sparked national outrage. Ma’Khia had been living with her grandmother but was shunted into foster care when her grandmother struggled to maintain stable housing. The teen and her sister called 911 for help multiple times in the weeks leading up to her death, reporting that they were being mistreated at their foster home and felt unsafe there.
In the wake of her death, the state created a youth ombuds office to address the concerns and care of foster children.
Public officials told 10TV reporters that they’ve had a growing number of children come into foster care who have significant mental and behavioral health needs, and that the state’s system doesn’t have sufficient resources for those children and families.
An April report from the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio found that the state lags behind the nation in many indicators of children’s well-being in foster care. The percentage of kids in congregate care has remained stable at 13% since 2000, while the national average has seen a 7% decreased. Youth in Ohio also experience higher rates of maltreatment while in care.
The state places foster children with relatives less often than other states, according to data from Child Trends, despite ample research showing that kinship placements are safer and more stabilizing for youth who are separated from their parents. Ohio also falls short on reunifying children with their parents, the data shows.