DeWine wants to double state aid for children services
COLUMBUS — Making good on his promise to protect abused and neglected children, Gov. Mike DeWine has proposed doubling state aid for family and children services.
Under the Republican governor’s plan, state funding would increase to $151 million a year, up $74 million from current spending.
“This is a dramatic increase but what we have to keep in mind is that Ohio has not been doing its fair share at all in regard to these children. Ohio has historically left the counties to fend for themselves and we have some very poor counties which simply do not have the resources,” DeWine said.
“Even if they have a levy, the levy does not produce that much money … a child should not be penalized who has multiple needs, and whose parents have abused the child because they’re drug addicts … these kids should not be penalized based on the county they happen to live in. It’s not fair. The state has a responsibility to these kids.”
Ohio ranks last in the nation for support of local children’s services. Only 51 of Ohio’s 88 counties have levies to generate local funding for services. In counties without them, services are limited or simply unavailable. And in recent years, thousands more children are in need of services in large part because of the state’s opioid crisis.
DeWine unveiled his plan, which will be included in his two-year state budget recommendation next Friday, to local child-welfare workers gathered in Lewis Center for a meeting of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio. The budget must be approved by the General Assembly.
“I’ve waited a long time to do this,” DeWine, who took office in January, told children services officials.
DeWine’s proposal includes:
‒ $90 million a year for counties in state child-protection funding.
‒ $25 million a year for serving children with the most extensive needs and requiring the help of multiple state agencies.
‒ $4.5 million to expand Ohio START, a program for children of parents with a substance use disorder to an additional 15 counties.
“Never before have we seen such a laser focus on giving abuse and neglected children a chance for safety and permanency, on giving families struggling with addiction and mental illness a chance for stability, and on giving the caseworkers and caregivers who help them a chance for achieving better outcomes,” said Angela Sausser, the association’s executive director.
Chip Spinning, executive director of Franklin County Children Services, commended DeWine’s understanding of the challenges facing many Ohio children and those trying to help them. “It was evident that he has connected with caseworkers and the work they do every single day and how difficult it is. To double the funding is really incredible,“Spinning said.
DeWine’s proposals were cheered by child-welfare officials throughout the state, especially those whose agencies struggle to come up with local money to provide services.
“It’s very exciting to hear his commitment,” said Russ Moore, executive director of Gallia County Children Services in southeastern Ohio. “I just pray that the legislature will see the priorities the same way the governor does.”
Moore heads one of the state’s poorest child-protection agencies, scraping by on minimal support provided by the state. Gallia is among the 37 of 88 Ohio counties without a tax levy to help fund services.
His agency has been battling the effects of the opioid crisis with just eight full-time employees — fewer than half the number Gallia County once had — and an annual budget of less than $1 million.
“I always say, we’re just one or two kids away from being wiped out,” he said.
After an unsuccessful plea last year for support from county commissioners, Moore held his breath and in November hired an additional employee anyway.
“We just stepped out on faith, because we thought it was so important,” Moore said.
Agencies also are facing high rates of employee turnover, as caseworkers walk away from jobs so difficult that many suffer the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, DeWine said.
“We are losing these caseworkers left and right,” he said.
Tammy Osborne-Smith, who heads Jackson County Children Services in southeastern Ohio, celebrated passage of the county’s first-ever levy in November only to face the resignation of three more case workers.
“We’re down to four,” she said.
Whitehall resident Mark Butler, who once had to surrender custody of his autistic son in order to obtain desperately needed behavioral-health treatment, was thrilled to learn that DeWine proposed $25 million to help families such as his.
“He really swung for the fences,” Butler said. “It shows that the voices of the families are being heard.”
The money would aid so-called multisystem youth, or children whose behavioral-health problems put them at risk of entering the justice or foster-care systems.
Inability to pay for treatment should not lead to suffering and custody relinquishment, DeWine said. “That should not happen.”
Mar 12, 2019
By Catherine Candisky
The Columbus Dispatch / GateHouse Ohio