Butler County Children Services has rolled out another program to improve its services to children and families, by implementing a Permanency Roundtable program to boost support for older children in foster care.
The Permanency Roundtable concept came to Ohio in 2014 and six counties, including Montgomery County, volunteered to host pilot projects. Butler County is among the second round of five counties to utilize the plan. The main objective is to connect children 12 years and older, who have been in the foster care system 17 months or longer, with either family members or community members who promise to be in the child’s life forever.
BCCS Director Bill Morrison said they started the first phase of the program a couple weeks ago with social workers, supervisors and members of the Montgomery County agency taking an in-depth look at the case history of 97 youth who are still in the system. They are now in the next phase where the group meets with the child to find out what they want to have happen in their life.
He said circling back after a period of time can often turn up appropriate family members or community members such as teachers and coaches who would be willing to lend the child a “forever family,” or at least a support structure.
“Anybody that’s worked a lot with teenagers knows that if you get into a battle of wills with teenagers you usually lose,” Morrison said. “The value of this process is it is youth-focused and youth-centered. It’s really about what they want to do. If it’s about what they want to do, they tend to cooperate at a much higher level. I’m really hoping it will create much more dynamic outcomes for our youth.”
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Craig Rickett, manager of Adoption and Permanency Planning in Montgomery County, said their program has been very successful. He said they had 60 percent of their kids emancipate with a permanency plan in place, and 40 percent of the children were either adopted, under the legal custody of someone or reunified with family.
Tim Beasley, the Montgomery County permanency coordinator, said another component of the program is to address barriers that have frustrated the child’s chances for adoption. Any number of issues could be at play, but there are also legal issues his agency has been able to address.
He said there are situations where the agency cannot take full custody of a child — known as Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (PPLA) kids — because there are some family ties the courts don’t like to sever, so they are not available for adoption. Beasley said they have forged a partnership with the court so if they find someone who wants to adopt a PPLA child, they give the agency custody so the child can be adopted.
Beasley said their work here has been easy because the mindset in Butler County was already all about finding permanency for kids.
“Butler County is amazing, they are so far ahead of the game,” he said. “This philosophy teaches to think outside the box as far as placement goes. When I got down there and I saw what they were already doing, they had already made that leap.”
Ben Johnson, director of communications for Ohio Job and Family Services, said the Permanency Roundtable program has become an important tool in Ohio.
“Permanency roundtables bring together adults who are important in a child’s life to bust barriers and find safe, permanent placements for children languishing in foster care. Caseworkers consult with the children and work to remove legal barriers, with one of several goals in mind: reunification with the biological family, adoption, or permanent legal custody or guardianship,” he said. “Permanency roundtables give the young person a voice in the process and help facilitate long-term, happy and healthy placements for children in foster care.”
The state is also working on another front to help older foster children. There are twin bills sitting in the Ohio Senate Finance Committee that would extend the age of emancipation to 21. When children turn 18 now they are booted out of the foster care system.
House Bill 50 passed the House overwhelming by 91 to 2 in December and moved over to the Senate. However, Sen. John Eklund had already introduced similar legislation in the form of Senate Bill 240. Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., who is vice chair of the finance committee, said they are adding some provisions to the bill from the Foundation for Government Accountability’s “Safe Families” bill but he expects it to sail through both chambers.
“I think it will have strong bipartisan support,” he said. “We realize the lunacy of telling a kid, often times who is a first or second semester senior in high school, that just because his 18th birthday came we’re just kicking him out the door and he is on his own. That’s crazy. We should have never done that but we are going to fix that problem.”