Under current Ohio law, the latest a person is eligible to receive foster care or adoption assistance, such as payments, is at the age of 18. By the time kids reach their 18th birthday, they are no longer able to get that assistance, and instead are forced out of the system and expected to make ends meet on their own.
Unfortunately, but as would likely be expected, those individuals often are not able to meet their needs while still a teenager. Add to this the fact that they do not have parents or guardians in their lives who can help them out either, and the problem becomes even more severe. The organization, Ohio Fostering Connections, which advocates for foster youth, reported that more than 1,000 Ohio youth “age out” of foster care at the age of 18 each year. What we have seen is that these youth go on to face higher rates of homelessness and incarceration and lower rates of graduating high school or earning a GED. Not only is that bad for the individuals, but it also can go on to cost the state even more money down the road.
Therefore, House Bill 50, which passed through the House this week, seeks to remedy—or at least improve—this situation. The bill extends payments to foster children until they turn 21, adding three years to the previous standard of 18. Those payments are dependent on whether those individuals are meeting certain work and education requirements, adding a safeguard to make sure the people receiving the payments are also taking responsibility for their futures.
Recent analyses of extending foster care in our state project that, within a decade, Ohio will benefit $1.81 for every dollar the state spends, indicating a positive return on investment in the long run. Just as important, the money the state does spend will be used for purposes of helping these young people get on their feet, find employment and get off government assistance, as opposed to the current situation of spending for, say, incarceration, which I mentioned earlier.
Bill sponsors Reps. Dorothy Pelanda and Cheryl Grossman, both from central Ohio, worked diligently to make sure this bill was ready for a vote on the House floor, and I commend them for their tireless efforts. This issue has been growing in Ohio in recent years and was something that needed to be addressed.
The legislation also addresses requirements for guardians, the men and women who look after and care for the more than 67,000 Ohioans—both young and old—who are subject to a guardianship. Among other things, HB 50 requires that the state provide guardians with a guidebook that is designed to educate them about best practices.
I look forward to continuing our work on House Bill 50 as it moves to the Ohio Senate because I believe this bill is an important step toward generating much-needed reforms in Ohio’s foster care system.
Cliff Rosenberger is the Ohio House Speaker.