A Family-First Focus for Children Services in Ohio Thanks to New Law

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Work to reform foster care in Ohio is getting a boost from a new federal law.

The Family First Prevention Services Act will be implemented this fall. It changes how federal dollars for foster care are spent.

Rob Myers, deputy director for Stark County Children Services, explained counties will be partially reimbursed for using evidence-based prevention interventions that prioritize keeping families together.

"In the past, it was kind of 'remove first, plan later,'" Myers observed. "This is shifting that perspective so that we're looking at what level of intervention is necessary."

One of the programs chosen by the state for the federal funding is Ohio START.

Nicole Caldwell, executive director for Guernsey County Children Services which recently joined the program, said her agency provides wraparound services for families struggling with substance abuse.

"We have a lack of detox facilities, residential substance-abuse treatment options and trauma treatment that really focuses on the root of trauma that a lot of the families that we're working with have endured," Caldwell contended.

Counties can also receive funding for mental-health treatment, parenting skills and counseling programs, but they must provide a local funding match for those services.

Stark County is part of a seven-county pilot project starting in April that will test Ohio's system for assessing prevention services ahead of the upcoming funding changes.

Myers confirmed the new funding will build upon their current work.

"This fits in very well with what we're trying to do," Myers remarked. "You always feel like you can do better. I'm hopeful that this will really kick-start us into seeing even more success with leaving kids in their home and reduce the number of kids that have to come into care."

According to the Public Children Services Association, there are concerns counties won't be able to match services once the pilot ends, because placement costs increased by $34 million annually the past two years.

There are measures to support the Family-First Prevention Act and other new programming in the state's proposed biennium budget, but funding for local children's services agencies is flat.

There are calls for local investments to ensure families have the supports they need to stay together.
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