Mary Schuermann Kuhlman
Ohio News Connection
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Children's services leaders in Ohio are reiterating calls for more funding to local agencies.
Specifically, they're asking the Senate Finance Committee for $50 million per year in general revenue funds in the biennium budget to support counties facing additional costs associated with new state and federal system transformation mandates.
Jody Walker, director of the South Central Ohio Job and Family Services, explained the historic investments made in the last biennium budget were crucial to addressing the influx of children in care.
"It's allowed us to continue to meet the needs of the families," said Walker. "But if we want to continue going down that road with making changes to our system, we need continued investment."
Placement costs increased by 9% from 2018 to 2020.
At Coshocton County Job and Family Services, Executive Director Danny Brenneman said two cases account for nearly 40% of their local levy dollars.
"We really are doing what we can with the local resources that we have," said Brenneman. "But the bottom line is, we need help."
Brenneman said the proposed children's services funding focuses squarely on states' cost of new policy changes.
Ohio's new Kinship Support Program is estimated to cost counties more than $23 million per year and the local match needed for the federal Family First Act could range from $18 to $25 million in the first fiscal year.
Between the opioid crisis, severe mental health issues, lack of foster homes, and other challenges, Walker said with the needs of children and families are overwhelming.
"We're talking about probably one of the most vulnerable populations," said Walker. "The kids that the agency served that have been abused and neglected, and especially with the needs on the residential side, multi-system sides. And then with the kinship support."
Brenneman cautioned that without additional investments, state and federal child welfare transformation mandates will impede their ability to respond to families in crisis.
"Our goal in child welfare is to ensure safe, happy, healthy families and children," said Brenneman. "And we really need to help the assistance of the state Legislature and the governor's office to make that a reality."