Come summer, Ohio’s 2,600 relative caregivers should finally start receiving financial support for children who have been removed from their homes. But a group suing the state over its kinship support said the plan falls woefully short.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine on Dec. 29 signed Senate Bill 310, which among other things orders the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (JFS) to start cutting checks by June 1. DeWine also signed an executive order instructing JFS to start setting up the payment system. The caregivers, who provide homes to almost 4,000 children, are also in line to be paid retroactively to the beginning of 2021.
The payments are limited to between six and nine months, depending on when the placement of a child into the home occurs.
“This executive order ensures that Ohio’s kinship caregivers receive the financial supports they need to help their loved ones grow and thrive, in a timely and efficient way,” a statement on the governor’s website said of the signings.
The measure comes shortly after a lawsuit was filed against the state by the nonprofit Children’s Rights, which said Ohio has failed to comply with a 2017 ruling in a case out of Kentucky by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision, in the case D.O. v Glisson, ordered all the states in the district, including Ohio, to pay relatives who are approved to care for children in the foster care system the same financial support as any non-relative caregiver who is recruited, trained and licensed by the state or its local agencies.
Despite the ruling, Ohio had not implemented a kinship foster payment system until now, leaving the decision on financial support up to counties, continuing an often-unexpected financial burden on grandparents and other family members who had stepped up to care for the children of mostly addicted relatives as the opioid crisis swept through the state.
When the money starts coming, kinship care support payments will be $10.20 per child per day “to the extent funds are available” for 2021, with a cost-of-living increase every year thereafter. That amount is 20 cents over the minimum foster care maintenance rate set by the state in its most recent update, published in September.
But Children’s Rights said the plan falls short of equal treatment for approved relatives. While the floor on foster care payments set by the state is $10, nearly all counties in the state report paying more than double that as a minimum rate, and the maximum rate for youth with high needs is $200 per day.
“These are not foster care payments, and they’re not close to what most foster parents receive in Ohio,” said Litigation Director Ira Lustbader. He also said the time limitation is also problematic, and wondered if a $10 per diem for any foster parent would meet the standards set up in federal law under the Title IV-E entitlement, which helps pay for a large chunk of foster care payments.
“What’s particularly frustrating is that in their own policies, the state agrees that kin deserve the same level of support,” said Lustbader. He called the state’s plan “surprising and unfortunate on the heels of this lawsuit.”