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COLUMBUS Bill would aid those in transition from foster care



Published: Sun, February 17, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The bill would help youths with such skills as balancing a checkbook, setting up housing and finding work.

By JEFF ORTEGA

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS -- Joe Morrison knows the difficulty some face while trying to make the transition from foster care to adulthood.

As someone who's worked 10 years with an independent living program, Morrison said he has seen the struggle firsthand. That's why he supports a bill that would offer services to youths going through such a transition.

"The provision of these services will help prevent a crisis in the lives of these young adults," Morrison, of Summit County Children Services, told the House Health and Family Services Committee Wednesday. "A crisis that could lead to unemployment, dropping out of school, a dependence on the welfare system or even entrance into the criminal-justice system."

Measure approved: The committee voted to approve the measure, sponsored by state Rep. Kerry Metzger. Metzger, a New Philadelphia Republican, said the bill could be on the Ohio House floor for a vote next week.

Under the bill, which would target youths ages 18 to 21, public child-protection agencies and private child-placement agencies would work with youths on such skills as balancing a checkbook, finding and getting set up in housing, accessing transportation and education and finding employment.

The measure would also create agreements between child welfare agencies and the youth they serve.

Morrison said Summit County Children Services has had an Independent Living Program for about 13 years, serving an average of 75 children per year.

Every year, between 35 and 40 children leave the program, he said. Some eventually have problems.

"They have few support systems and can't ask their parents so they come back to their old social worker," Morrison said.

Giving more help: Morrison said passage of the bill would give more help to the young adults as they try to transition to adulthood.

That help could include temporary assistance with rent to financial help to get a car repaired to financial assistance to continue an education.

"The ability to provide independent living services to young adults after they leave our custody will allow us to be a safety net and prevent dependence on other public systems," Morrison said.

Against the bill: State Rep. Twyla Roman, an Akron Republican and a committee member, voted no on the measure.

"I just think we're creating another entitlement," Roman said.

Roman said much of the help proposed is already available.

"To me it's kind of a duplication," she said.

Other features: Under the bill, there would also be an evaluation to determine what type of help is needed. It would also provide for adult supervision in housing for 16- and 17-year-olds who are emancipated from the state's foster-care system.

The original bill would have allowed the use of Medicaid to provide insurance coverage for the youths, but changes to the bill make the use of Medicaid contingent on whether money is available, aides to Metzger have said.

The bill also has the backing of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.




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