Group formed in wake of Ohio foster-care deaths

CINCINNATI - An advisory group has been formed to improve Ohio's foster-care system in the wake of several shocking child deaths, Attorney General Mike DeWine said Monday as he released a report that shed new light on some of the system's biggest problems.

DeWine, who announced the formation of the group at a news conference, gave its members a March deadline to issue recommendations to improve foster care in Ohio.

The announcement came almost exactly one year after DeWine's office held the first of eight child-safety summits in the state following a rash of deaths among children whom the system failed. Those included the Oct. 21, 2011, death of a 2-year-old Cincinnati boy who had been beaten and burned, allegedly by his father, two months after he was returned to his parents' home from foster care.

"We're not focused enough on these kids, and we have to be willing at some point, once the evidence is in, to say enough is enough and we're going to sever the relationship," DeWine said. "(Society doesn't) have the guts and the gumption to say, `We're going to sever that relationship permanently.' Everyone chokes on that, and I understand why they do, but at some point you've got to think about the kid."

Other than safety, DeWine said the biggest issue is permanency for foster children who are forced to "age out" of the system, referring to a status that puts a child in the custody of the state without terminating parental rights.

More than 1,500 such children in Ohio turned 18 this past fiscal year without ever having been adopted, according to the report DeWine's office released Monday summarizing the results of the child-safety summits.

"It is detrimental to these children, and to society, when they age out of foster care without a home," according to the report, which says that such children are less likely to have a high-school diploma or its equivalency, and that just 2 percent of them get a college education.

More than 50 percent of those who age out experience homelessness and nearly 30 percent will spend time in prison, according to the report.

The report also shows that adoptions overall in the state are down.

Of the more than 12,000 children in the system last fiscal year, 1,241 were adopted. That's down from 1,465 adoptions in 2009 and 2,022 adoptions in 2005, according to the report.

Overall, 15 percent of foster-care children in the state spend four or more years in the system, according to the report.

Members of DeWine's advisory board include foster parents, adults who were in the foster-care system as children, judges who've dealt with foster cases and child welfare experts.

More details were to be released about the board later Monday.

Other problems the board has been tasked to address include increasing accountability in the system, allowing foster parents to participate more in the court process and improving the attorneys selected to represent abused and neglected children in court proceedings.

"Now is the time for innovative changes to ensure that every child has a safe, loving and permanent home," DeWine said. "Every child deserves nothing less."
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