COLUMBUS, Ohio - On the campaign trail and in his first State of the State address, Gov. Mike DeWine promised to invest in services to help Ohio's most vulnerable children. The budget he is to present today to state lawmakers is expected to do just that.
DeWine wants to almost double the funding for services that protect neglected and abused children, which would mean an additional $74 million a year. Angela Sausser, executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, said it's an unprecedented investment.
"We've been saying for several years now what a crisis our system is in," she said, "and to have the governor come out with proposed investments to provide additional state support was absolutely amazing."
The opioid crisis has strained the child-welfare system, Sausser said. At least 15,500 children are in out-of-home care in Ohio, more than a 25 percent increase since 2013. The largest chunk of money, an additional $30 million, would help counties pay for foster-care placements, recruit foster families and increase numbers of caseworkers.
DeWine wants $25 million for multi-system youths, which Sausser said would prevent parents from giving up custody of children with behavioral or mental illnesses in order to get the treatment they need. The budget proposal also includes $4.5 million to expand the Ohio START program to 15 more counties besides the current 32.
Sausser said DeWine, as state attorney general, launched Ohio START specifically to work with parents struggling with addiction.
"They are paired with a family peer mentor, as well as a dedicated caseworker," she said, "and the whole goal is to prevent kids from coming into foster care while their parents are on the recovery path; or if they do have to come into foster care, that they could go back home sooner."
After DeWine presents his budget to the General Assembly, it goes to the House for review and then the Senate. The 2020-2021 biennium budget must be approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor by June 30.