Local legislators hear hopes for more training, better rules for foster parents

By Ed Runyan



Another record number of people – about 117 – died in Trumbull County in 2017 from accidental drug overdoses, but three state legislators were asked Monday to also remember the children negatively affected by the opiate crisis.

About 50 people who work with children negatively impacted by the opiate crisis told state Sen. Sean O’Brien and state Reps. Glenn Holmes and Michael O’Brien what their agencies need from state government to help kids.

During the legislative day breakfast at the non-profit treatment foster-care agency Homes For Kids, Sean O’Brien, D-32nd of Bazetta; Holmes, D-65th, of McDonald; and Michael O’Brien, D-64th of Warren, also gave an update on legislative efforts already in progress.

Homes for Kids’ Shannon Harnichar told them one big need is for funding to improve training for foster parents.

Many more children are coming into foster care because of the addictions of their parents. But such children also have more serious needs than foster children in the past, Harnichar said.

“We used to see in treatment foster care a lot of juvenile delinquents, a lot of teenagers. Now you are seeing 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-year-olds coming to us in sibling groups that have suffered so much trauma,” Harnichar said.

“They have intense mental health and behavioral-health needs. They are delayed in school. They have health issues due to neglect, and our foster parents are struggling to meet these needs.

“So we need to look at training our foster parents differently and giving them additional supports,” she said. Agencies working with these children need additional trainers and case workers to work with the foster parents.

Homes For Kids, for example, receives requests from Trumbull County Children Services to handle a child or sibling group and will get paid by Children Services for that work, Harnichar said.

"The more money our community can get, that trickles down to us in helping us to provide services to these children,” Harnichar told the legislators.

She also asked the legislators to simplify the rules that govern foster parenting.

She said sometimes state officials change the regulations as a “knee-jerk reaction” to the death of a child in foster care.

An Ohio Department of Job and Family Services committee on which she serves is studying the Ohio foster-care requirements and comparing them to national standards.

“Right now Ohio requires more training than any other state to become a foster parent,” she said.

“The average length of time a family has to wait to be licensed in Ohio right now is 175 days. In 175 days, most families have lost their motivation to do this,” she said.

“The reason it takes 175 days is because of the stringent requirements Ohio has in place, plus we have a shortage of people who can license foster homes.”

The committee will give the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the governor its recommendations by May 1, she said.

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