PREBLE COUNTY — The Preble County Commissioners approved a letter on Wednesday, Jan. 6, they plan to send to Senator Bill Beagle’s office regarding concerns over Ohio House Bill 50 and Ohio Senate Bill 240.
The two bills, also known as the Ohio Fostering Connections Bill, would extend foster care services to those in foster care from the age of 18 to the age of 21.
On Tuesday, Dec. 1, the Ohio House passed an Amended Substitute House Bill 50 by an overwhelming 91-2 vote.
The bill will now move on the Senate where Senate Bill 240 is also currently being reviewed.
According to Jeff Centers, head of Children Services in Preble County, Ohio will join 26 other states in extending foster care assistance beyond the age of 18.
The commissioners’ letter to Senators Beagle’s office reads as follows:
“The Board of Preble County Commissioners has reviewed information on House Bill 50 and Senate Bill 240, and has discussed them with our Director of Job and Family Services. While we applaud the intent to ensure the success of young adults exiting the child protection system by having foster care services extended from age 18 to 21, we are concerned with the potential financial burden and liability issues this may bring to Preble County.
“Initial language in the bills state that the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services will be responsible for the administration and funding of the program, of which the largest cost would be the cost for room and board for the children. ODJFS currently does not provide significant funds to Preble County to serve children for mandated Independent Living services. Would additional funds be provided for these services? Additionally, our understanding is that the federal government will provide funding for this, but is that funding stream already in place? And if so, how much funding is being proposed for the program and for how long?
“Staffing is another concern. If our Job and Family Services Department will be responsible for monitoring these children, the department’s caseload will increase, and additional staff will be needed. At this time, there is nothing in the bills that addresses these additional costs or how they will be funded.
“Other concerns are how will the ODJFS and the county departments be able to enforce the program requirements for the youth to be enrolled in schooling or training programs, or to be employed. If the county departments must enforce the program requirements, how do they do this with youth who are legally considered adults? How much authority will the Juvenile Courts have regarding the young adults’ abilities to come and go? What is the liability to the county to have custody of legal age adults who want to drive, own vehicles or enter into contracts?
“While we certainly want to see children in our care become successful adults, these bills have many questions that need to be answered. Until assurances can be made that the financial and staffing burden, and the possible liability issues to Preble County will be minimized according to the potential impacts of this legislation, the Board of Preble County Commissioners cannot endorse or support either of these bills. We would appreciate if your office would keep us informed of any resolutions to our concerns that are included in the proposed bills.”
The letter is signed by Christopher Day, Denise Robertson and Rodney Creech.
Centers applauded the intentions of the bill, saying “It has very good intentions.”
He also added he felt some kids would benefit from the bill while others may not.
Centers explained his agency’s concerns are similar to that of the commissioners. He explained he is concerned money coming in the form of federal assistance may mean the reduction of other federal assistance.
Centers also addressed concerns of legal liability for legal adults. “If you’re 18, you’re legally an adult, how much authority do we have over you?” he asked. “Can they go out and get a driver’s license now? Obviously they are 18 they can enter a contract legally, but then is the county liable for them as a driver because we maintain custody?”
Centers also expressed concerns for staff loads and additional staffing. Centers did specify he feels the staffing loads will be bigger concerns in larger counties. He estimated 10 children left the system this year after turning 19 or graduating high school in Preble County.
Centers explained, currently the county can continue to support children in foster care as long as those children are on pace to graduate high school or obtain a GED before the age of 19. Students not on pace for graduation are emancipated, according to Centers.
He also noted, kids in the foster care system will have the option of leaving the program but will need to prove they are still attending either high school or post-secondary schools or are gainfully employed to continue to receive assistance.
Centers said many children in the foster care program choose to leave at 18. “A lot of them kind of leave as soon as they turn 18 anyway — they are ready to go. They are not necessarily prepared for it, obviously, no better than I was when I was 18, probably you either. It’s not like they are going and are homeless and wandering the streets, at least not here.”
Centers also stated he felt legislation could be signed by the governor as early as March.
Reach Austin Schmidt at 937-683-4062 or on Twitter @aschmidt_RH.