Children’s Caucus Panel: Promoting and Protecting Child Welfare During COVID-19 and Beyond
June 9, 2020
By Alison Paxson, Policy Fellow
On June 5th, the Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus met with state leaders, policymakers, and advocates to discuss key funds and policies needed to bolster Ohio’s child welfare system and ensure the safety of our children during this time of heightened household stress and uncertainty.
Ohio’s child welfare system has been in crisis long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Our state saw a surge in the number of children in care with complex needs during the opioid crisis. Inadequate funding for the child welfare sector during this epidemic contributed to unsustainable costs, a strained workforce, and ultimately, poor outcomes for children throughout Ohio.
According to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Ohio has some of the worst outcomes educationally and economically for children who are placed in foster care. Nationally, 49% of former foster youth are employed two years after leaving care, while in Ohio that rate is only 36% of Ohio’s youth. Likewise, 76% of foster youth nationally earn a high school diploma, compared with only 43% of Ohio’s youth.
In the last state budget process, the General Assembly and Gov. DeWine invested $125 million in Ohio’s child welfare system to address these significant issues. The COVID-19 will also impact the child welfare system in numerous ways, but it is critically important that we keep moving forward and elevate child wellbeing during this time. This is especially important as many children are at heightened risk of abuse and neglect as families are experiencing increased economic stress and children do not have consistent contact with mandated reporters, like teachers and child care professionals.
This is also critical for advancing racial equity in Ohio. Children of color are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system with Black children being over 3 times as likely to enter custody as White children. “We know that COVID-19 has certainly brought to light many of the weaknesses in the system as it currently exists,” said co-chair, Rep. Russo in opening comments. “It’s important for us to acknowledge the inequities, the systemic and structural inequities that also exist.”
This webinar featured a panel of experts who weighed in on the issues facing Ohio’s child welfare system:
- Stefanie Sprow, Director of Child Welfare Policy, Children’s Defense Fund
- Angela Sausser, Executive Director, Public Children Services Association of Ohio
- Jonathan Thackeray, Chief Medical Community Health Officer, Dayton Children’s Hospital
- Mark Mecum, Chief Executive Officer, Ohio Children’s Alliance
Key takeaways from this webinar include:
- Congress needs to act immediately to provide emergency funding to equip state child welfare systems with the tools and resources necessary to handle this crisis. The Children’s Defense Fund outlined their recommendations for these funds in this letter to congressional leaders.
- Throughout COVID-19, we have seen a decrease in reports of abuse and neglect, but unfortunately, this does not mean that instances of abuse and neglect are decreasing.
- Three critical converging items we must consider during our COVID-19 recovery are:
- We are likely to see a surge in children coming into care as mandated reporters have more frequent contact with children when schools and other facilities reopen.
- We will be feeling the impacts of this economic downturn in our child welfare system and need emergency funding to sustain it and maintain child safety.
- We must address how significant inequities contribute to poorer outcomes experienced by children of color in the child welfare system. We see this in how children of color tend to be in custody longer, do not gain permanency as often, and are more frequently placed in more restrictive settings.
- The risk factors for child maltreatment are well known and include things like financial stress, substance abuse, caregivers with mental health conditions, and lack of social supports – all of which are exacerbated at a time like this. These stressors weren’t distributed evenly among our communities before the pandemic, and now the disparities and the gaps have only been worsened. Families of lower socioeconomic status are facing greater social and economic pressures than others in this time of crisis.
- Regarding state level policies, the panel recommends the following:
- Maintain the children’s services investments into the next biennium in order to continue making progress on child welfare issues.
- Maintain and extend option for emancipating youth to remain in care during the pandemic.
- Allow for greater flexibility of foster caregiver training hours (As provided in HB 8).
- Invest state funding to assist in meeting a 50% match for prevention services which will come into play in the next biennium budget.
- Maximize the Family First Prevention Services Act.
- Create a crisis preparedness plan for the child welfare system and other systems so that we are better prepared for future crises and better able to support our state’s children when they need us most.
This series of webinars will continue through August 2020.
If you are interested in registering for the next webinar centering on the topic of youth homelessness on Friday, June 19, 2020 at 1:00pm, please click here.
To access a recording of this webinar, please click here.
To access the slide deck presented during this webinar, please click here.
About the Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus:
Co-chaired by Sen. Peggy Lehner and Rep. Allison Russo, the Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus is a bipartisan, bicameral, issues-based caucus created to improve the effectiveness and reach of policy designed to positively impact children from birth to age eighteen (and beyond in some cases). The goal of the caucus is to make a significant and lasting difference in the lives of children through public policy to move the needle on these child indicators of well-being.