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ACTION: Motion for preliminary injunction filed to stop immediate harm to vulnerable Ohio children and families

Contacts:

Children’s Rights – Camilla Jenkins cjenkins@childrensrights.org  917.971.1784

DLA Piper – Josh Epstein josh.epstein@us.dlapiper.com  212.776.3838

Cincinnati, OH —A Preliminary Injunction Motion and a Motion for Class Certification were filed today on behalf of children placed with eligible relative foster parents to stop the state of Ohio from withholding federally required Foster Care Maintenance Payments that Plaintiffs desperately need and to which they are entitled. The motions were filed against the state of Ohio by attorney Richard F. Dawahare, attorney Jay Langenbahn, national advocacy group Children’s Rights, and the global law firm DLA Piper LLP.

The class action lawsuit originally filed November 19 alleges that the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS), the agency responsible for the administration and oversight of the state’s child welfare system, is violating federal law, is refusing to comply with a 2017 court ruling establishing that the state must pay approved relative foster parents the same financial support it pays licensed non-relative foster parents, and seeks to compel the state to make such payments.

Governor Mike DeWine’s own child welfare task force recommendations, released November 20, admit that Ohio needs more kinship foster families, that kin receive little or no financial support, that kids with kin spend less time in foster care and experience less trauma, and that Black kids are disproportionately removed and put into Ohio foster care. The recommendations make no mention, however, of the need to equally pay approved relative foster parents the required maintenance payments.

Today’s motions assert that Ohio families—including Ohio relative foster parents and the children they care for—are currently facing significant economic hardship in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that render Defendants’ ongoing violations of federal law even more urgent, harmful, and in need of redress now. The Preliminary Injunction motion will require the state and the court to address these issues in the immediate future.

The provision of Foster Care Maintenance Payments to relative foster parents will help alleviate the economic hardships faced by Ohio families, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The unemployment rate in Ohio has nearly doubled from pre-pandemic levels. One in three Ohio families report having difficulty paying household expenses in recent months and one in six Ohioans are behind on rent. And families with children have been hit especially hard, with nearly one in seven Ohio households caring for children reporting that those children are not getting enough to eat.

Black families have been particularly hard hit. Black children make up 24% of the state’s kinship foster families, and those families carry an unequal and unfair burden when the state fails to pay required foster care maintenance payments. Black children in Ohio also comprise 12% of the general population under age 18 as compared to 30% of children in foster care.

“Action from the state now is not only in the best interest of Ohio relative foster care families and kids, but it’s also in the public’s best interest,” said Richard F. Dawahare, a Kentucky attorney who successfully brought the original lawsuit that resulted in the 2017 federal appeals court ruling. “Not only can the state immediately help to alleviate the economic hardships faced by our communities as a result of COVID-19, but this action will equally unburden a child welfare system that is already underwater.”

“In Ohio and across the US, children of color and specifically Black children are disproportionately removed from home and placed into foster care, as compared to White children. The state’s refusal to pay approved relative caregivers the required federal supports compounds the racial inequities at play in Ohio, where Black youth are disproportionately removed from their families and placed into foster care,” said Ira Lustbader, litigation director for Children Right’s. “It’s high time that we acknowledge that it’s not only wrong to treat relative foster families differently, it is unlawful.”

“The harm done and the unfairness of Ohio’s treatment of relative foster parents are obvious and overwhelming. The state’s continued denial of these payments has the potential to do urgent and long lasting harm to the health and development of children, as well as to the wellbeing of the selfless relatives who care for them,” said Daniel Turinsky, a partner at the global law firm DLA Piper LLP. 

To learn more about this case, click here.

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ABOUT RICHARD F. DAWAHARE

Richard F. Dawahare has enjoyed a multi-faceted career since graduating from the University Of Kentucky College Of Law in 1979. He first worked as a merchant in the retail industry, starting with Macy’s and then 26 years with Dawahare’s until the company’s closing in the fall of 2008. He then began his legal career as a solo practitioner focusing on family and elder law. He serves as a Guardian ad Litem for children in DNA Court (Dependency, Neglect and Abuse), and represents wards and families in adult Guardianship proceedings. He also does veterans’ disability appeals and is a pro bono volunteer for the Fayette County Bar Association and AppalReD (Appalachian Research and Defense), representing former Eric Conn clients. Dawahare recently won a significant victory for children and their relative foster parents in a case that went to the United States Supreme Court, D.O. v. Glisson, 847 F.3d 374 (6th Cir. 2017) cert. denied 138 S.Ct. 316 (2017).

ABOUT JAY R. LANGENBAHN

Jay R. Langenbahn Is a trial lawyer with over 40 years of experience with the firm of Lindhorst & Dreidame. He practices in many areas of the law including domestic relations. He has tried over 100 cases to verdict. 

ABOUT CHILDREN’S RIGHTS

Fighting to transform America’s failing child welfare, juvenile justice, education and healthcare systems is one of the most important social justice movements of our time. Through strategic advocacy and legal action, Children’s Rights holds state governments accountable to America’s most vulnerable children. A national watchdog organization since 1995, Children’s Rights fights to protect and defend the rights of young people, because we believe that children have the right to the best possible futures. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.

ABOUT DLA PIPER, LLP

DLA Piper is a global law firm with lawyers located in more than 40 countries throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific, positioning it to help clients with their legal needs around the world.  DLA Piper has a longstanding and deep commitment to giving back to the community through pro bono legal services, and it is one of the largest providers of pro bono legal services globally. For more information, please visit www.dlapiper.com.

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