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The Fight to Support Kinship Caregivers Continues in Ohio

“We remain steadfast in our conviction that the law requires the same support to approved relative foster caregivers as it provides to licensed foster caregivers and look forward to advancing the merits of our clients’ claims in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  We believe the law commands it, and conscience demands it.”—Ira Lustbader, Chief Program Officer

When removal is absolutely necessary, child welfare law and policy prioritize placing children with approved grandparents, relatives, or close family friends, known as relative or kinship caregivers. Placing children with relatives maintains critical family connections, helps children heal from trauma and has been shown to have the best long-term outcomes for the well-being of children.

Today 4,500 children in Ohio’s foster care system cared for by relatives are being unlawfully denied critical financial support to help caregivers meet their basic needs. These relatives – most of them grandparents – have stepped up to provide the love and care children need—children who may otherwise be shuffled through the foster care system and placed in institutions instead of staying with their family. 

When a child is placed with a relative foster parent, the foster parent assumes financial responsibility for the child, taking on the costs of food, housing, and other necessities. In the 2017 ruling, D.O. v. Glisson, the United State Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (which includes Ohio) made clear that approved relative foster parents must receive the same payments as licensed non-relative foster parents, saying: “it’s not optional.”

But last week, a district court in Ohio dismissed our case fighting on behalf of these children and families. In his ruling the judge himself recognized the injustice, stating that they, “certainly deserve more.”

“The Court recognizes that a foster child’s need for food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, personal incidentals, and travel does not vary by the licensure status of the home in which the children lay their heads down at night. The Court also recognizes that non-licensed foster caregivers in Ohio are called to do much of the same work as their licensed foster caregiver counterparts, but must do that work on a fraction of the provided payment. This difference in payment due to a difference in placement, in a licensed home or not, is neither ideal nor even satisfactory.” Federal Judge Michael Barrett

Our case is about fairness and holding the state accountable for providing equitable support to all foster care parents and children in their care. Sadly, this violation of children’s and families’ rights is not restricted to Ohio — it is a national disgrace. Everyone should have the opportunity to succeed regardless of their start in life, but too many children living with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and relatives are being denied their right to the resources they need to live healthy, happy lives.

This fight isn’t over. We will appeal the decision and continue to fight for all the relatives who devote their lives to kids in their care. We will continue to seek a fair and just result that fully complies with long-standing federal law and honors the courageous and life-changing commitment relative caregivers voluntarily make to care for our children.

All of us need reliable, supportive relationships as we find our place in the world. When we support relative foster families, we help children thrive.