By Wayne Gates –
Life will change soon for the eighty or so children in foster care in Brown County.
On July 1, a new state law will take effect that will allow them to remain in the Ohio foster care system until age 21.
Ohio Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 50 on June 13.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services will receive $550,000 to implement the program, which is expected to take about 18 months to get off the ground.
The benefits include programs to help the youth train for college or a career and extended payments to foster and host homes.
Statewide, about 1000 youths “age out” of foster care at age 18, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Brown County ODJFS Director Mitch Sharp said that five or six children a year “age out” of the foster care system locally and could be eligible for the new services.
He said that every situation is different, but that some older children were being underserved.
“Some children when they hit 18 need more supervision and help. So the question became does it benefit them to stay in foster care for a longer period of time,” Sharp said.
He added that some foster children have remained in the care of the state past age 18, depending on their circumstances.
“If a child has not graduated from high school, we leave them in care of a foster parent with the idea of letting them finish high school,” Sharp said.
He added that most foster kids are usually ready to leave the system as they get older.
“Generally speaking, upon graduation or being eligible for graduation, most of those children, almost all across the board, wish to be independent.”
Sharp said one big reason for that is that foster kids are not able to have something that many teenagers take for granted.
“The agency is unable to sign for a teenager to get a drivers license because of liability. So they age out of the system without a permit or drivers license.”
Sharp said that an effort to prepare foster kids to leave the system begins a couple of years prior to their 18th birthdays.
“When children reach the age of 15 or 16, we start talking to them about what’s going to happen when they get to age 18. We ask them what their plans are and what we can do to help them.”
He added that more foster parents are always needed in Brown County, especially these days.
“A large part of the need for foster parents has been because of the drug abuse and heroin problem. We have children coming to us sometimes at birth or very very young because of the drug problem. We just desperately need new foster parents and new foster homes,” Sharp said.
Anyone wishing more information on how to become a foster parent is asked to call (937) 378-6104 and speak to Amy or Nicole.
Some mandatory training hours, a background check and a home visit are part of the process.