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Foster Care Advocates Call for Extending Resources For 3 Years

Bills pending in the Ohio House and Senate would change the state's foster care system. 

Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

Lawmakers and child advocacy groups say the state can be doing more for kids in foster care to make sure they can go on to become independent and successful.

“It’s important for people to always remember that these children who’ve been placed in foster care are victims of neglect and abuse,” said Cubbon.

Denise Navarre Cubbon is the Lucas County Juvenile Court judge. She’s supporting a bill in the House that would extend state resources for foster care kids for three years. So instead of aging out of the program at 18 they would age out at 21.

Republican Representative Dorothy Pelanda of Marysville is one of the lead sponsors of the bill. She says it’s unreasonable to think any 18-year-old, whether they’re in foster care or not, would have a good shot at becoming an independent, productive member of society without guidance and support.

“The statistics are alarming as to the number of children who are homeless, who end up in prison, who end up on our system in one way or another because they have absolutely no support system because they have no family—no extended family so to speak—to help guide them to those critical years as an adult,” said Pelanda.

About 1,000 foster care kids turn 18 every year in Ohio. That’s 1,000 young people cast out into adulthood without the proper amount of training, according to Mark Mecum, executive director of the Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies. He says the extra three years will make a big difference and that Ohio will follow in the footsteps of other states that have already increased the age-out age to 21.

“They create housing programs, case management services, they provide independent living and job training. The types of things that really all youth need when they become adults especially youth that don’t have families to rely upon,” said Mecum.

Judge Jim James with the Stark County Family Court says he’s seen newly independent 18-year-olds slip-up from the smallest things such as filling out a job application or signing up for health insurance. James adds that there’s something to be said for the maturity that happens between the ages of 18 to 21.

“We know scientifically that brains continue to develop until 23. Certainly the addition from 18 to 21 allows for greater life experiences greater maturity and I think it would be a huge benefit to have the support for these kids for that period of time,” James said.

Pelanda and Mecum also note that extending the age-out to 21 would be in Ohio’s best financial interest. Mecum says extending these resources will keep more people off of state assistance.

“There are studies that show—including a study here in Ohio—that if you invest the right way in Ohio youth who age out of foster care not only can we improve their outcome but after a 10 year period Ohio will actually experience a net fiscal gain,” said Mecum.

Mecum says the child protection system takes over as the parent once the kids go into foster care. 

“And as their parent we better do a better job at parenting them than their neglectful or abusive parents that we took them away from,” Mecum said.

The bill passed out of House committee and is waiting for a full chamber vote. Pelanda says there’s a similar bill pending in the Senate.

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