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Bipartisan bill would extend Ohio's foster care program

TIFFANY L. PARKS
Special to the Legal News

Published: May 12, 2014

A pair of lawmakers from Akron and Napoleon have partnered to introduce a bill into the legislature that would extend foster care to youth through their 21st birthday.

House Bill 423 would require the director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to submit an amendment to the state’s plan for child welfare services to make federal Title IV-E payments for foster care available to persons up to age 21.

The bill is sponsored by Reps. Zack Milkovich, a Democrat, and Lynn Wachtmann, a Republican.

“By extending the age from 18 to 21, we can provide more opportunities for children in the foster care system by providing a safety net,” Wachtmann said.

To be eligible for program benefits, a foster child must be completing secondary education or an equivalent credential, be enrolled in an institution that provides post-secondary or vocational education, participate in a program or activity designed to promote or remove barriers to employment; work at least 80 hours per month or be incapable of doing any of the previous activities because of a medical condition.

“Federal funding would cover about half of the cost associated with this legislation,” Wachtmann said.

In Ohio, foster care funding is a combination of state and federal funds for children under the age of 18.

“Generally, foster care maintenance payments for a child terminate at age 18 because funding is unavailable after the end of the month of the child’s 18th birthday,” Milkovich said, adding that while eligibility until age 18 continues to be the minimum requirement under U.S. law, the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 offers states the option to extend foster care maintenance payment eligibility for recipients under age 21.

Milkovich went on to say that of children who age out of foster care, data have shown that up to 30 percent struggle with homelessness, more than 40 percent do not earn a high school diploma, up to 42 percent are arrested and more than 40 percent of young women are pregnant within 12 to 18 months of leaving the system.

There is “strong evidence that allowing foster youth to remain in care until age 21 increases their likelihood of pursuing post-secondary education,” he said, adding that evidence shows allowing youth to stay in foster care until age 21 is associated with increased earnings, delayed pregnancy and reduced criminal activity among women.

The bill, which has been backed by Ohio Fostering Connections, is before the House Health and Aging committee.

The proposal is co-sponsored by a bipartisan slate of 10 lawmakers.

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