A new executive order from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) to develop a system that would pay kinship caregivers no later than June 1, 2021. It also said eligible kinship caregivers would be retroactively paid from the date the bill was signed, which was on Dec. 29, 2020.
DeWine said that giving kinship caregivers the financial support they need will help “their loved ones grow and thrive, in a timely and efficient way.”
The payments, described as foster care maintenance payments, would be determined and paid by the Title IV-E agency. He said there are more than 2,600 kinship caregivers providing care to almost 4,000 children in the custody of public Children Services agencies in the state.
Katie Smith, director of Highland County Job and Family Services (HCJFS), said a kinship caregiver is “any relative, or non-relative with a connection to the family, who provides care for a child in the absence of a child’s parents.”
She also said that the new executive order is a “huge step” in trying to financially support these caregivers. Prior to this order, she said only foster parents and other licensed substitute caregivers consistently received financial compensation for caring for children in the custody of a public Children Services agency. The new program, which Smith called the Kinship Support Program, will give relatives a monthly payment to help offset the cost of things like rent/mortgage, utilities, clothing, transportation, food, etc.
Smith, however, said it is too soon to say how the program will impact foster care in Highland County.
“It is hoped that with additional financial support, kinship caregivers will be able to care for relative/nonrelative children in the agency’s custody and maintain these children in their homes for a longer period,” she said. “Ideally, this would reduce the number of children placed in foster care. Kinship caregivers who chose to become licensed as foster parents may be a resource for other children who enter custody. This could potentially increase the number of children who can be placed safely in their community.”
ODJFS helped guide the county on the implementation of the program. In the county itself, HCJFS sent letters to all the eligible kinship providers that currently care for a relative/non-relative child in the custody of HCJFS and kinship providers who were caring for a relative/non-relative child on or after Dec. 29, 2020, but no longer provide care. The letter has information about the program as well as how to become licensed as a foster parent.
Following the order, HCJFS’s kinship coordinator will educate kinship providers that complete their home study on the program. HCJFS already provides these caregivers with information on applying for financial assistance through Ohio Works First (OWF) and becoming licensed as a foster parent, which will continue.
Currently, Smith said there are about 25 to 30 foster homes in Highland County, with a majority licensed through HCJFS and the others are through private agencies.
She said there are about 155 children in the custody of HCJFS, with 112 placed in a family of treatment level foster home, which are either licensed by HCJFS or a private agency.
“About one-third of the children in custody are placed in Highland County, or neighboring counties (Clinton, Adams, Brown),” Smith said. “Highland County also has children placed in Muskingum, Hamilton, Montgomery, Champaign and Clermont counties. Children requiring a more restrictive placement setting and children with specialized needs tend to be placed farther away from Highland County. Placements for children with special needs are more challenging to locate.”
For those interested in possibly becoming a foster parent, Smith detailed the process. She first said they must decide whether it is by HCJFS or by a private network. The other steps are as follow:
* Applicants must complete an Application for Child Placement and submit it to the agency they would like to get certification through.
* Enroll in and complete pre-service training, which is currently 36 hours for a family foster home.
* Take part in the home study process, which has multiple parameters. They include interviews with an assessor certified to license foster homes and a safety inspection of the home completed by an assessor. They must also submit their fingerprints for a criminal background check (both BCI and FBI) and go through a central registry check to identify any child abuse or neglect records. Applicants also need to complete a physical exam and a submission of a physician’s statement for every applicant and household member. They must also verify immunizations for all the household members and complete an Applicant Financial Statement, which looks to show an income that is enough to meet the needs of the household but doesn’t consider room and board payments that would be received for children placed in the home. The applicants must also submit the names and contact information for three references, a favorable safety inspection completed by the fire department and a favorable well inspection (when applicable).
* Following the initial certification, foster parents need to take part in ongoing training and a recertification process every two years.
Reach Jacob Clary at 937-402-2570.