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Lawsuit Argues Ohio Illegally Fails to Provide Required Payments to Relative Foster Parents

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) – In Ohio, foster children cared for by relatives are being unlawfully denied foster care maintenance payments, according to a complaint filed today in Cincinnati federal court 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 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, irreparably harming children and putting an unfair financial strain on vulnerable families. The suit argues that ODJFS is refusing to comply with a 2017 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.

When a state determines that parents can’t take care of their children, 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 wellbeing of children.  In Ohio, approximately 4,500 foster children are living with approved relative foster parents, a number that has been growing rapidly in the state. As noted in the Public Children Services Association of Ohio Factbook: “Ohio’s children services system is in serious crisis.” With an increasing number of children in foster care, and insufficient family homes, “[t]oo many children are being placed in residential facilities, often out-of-state; and too many children are being placed in foster homes that are far from their families.”

As described in the state’s resource guide for relatives:  “[k]inship caregivers’ voluntary commitment to devote their lives to the children in their care is a courageous, life-changing decision.”  Relative foster parents help raise vulnerable children until they can be reunified with their parents (and longer if they cannot). Relative foster parents often provide the stability and emotional supports that are critical for youth who would otherwise “age out” of the foster care system into homelessness or the criminal justice system.

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. Black children in Ohio comprise 12% of the general population under age 18 and 30% of children in foster care.  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.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has strained families across the country. In Ohio, the unemployment rate is nearly double pre-pandemic levels, with more than one million workers filing for unemployment between mid-March and May 2020 alone.  The provision of foster care maintenance payments to relative foster families will help alleviate these hardships.

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.”  Today’s lawsuit argues that, three years after D.O. v. Glisson, Ohio continues to harm families by refusing to pay foster care maintenance payments to relative foster parents.

“It has been more than three years since the Sixth Circuit clearly established that the state of Ohio must pay approved relative foster parents, just as it does licensed non-relative foster parents”, said Richard Dawahare, a Kentucky attorney who successfully brought the original law suit that resulted in the 2017 federal appeals court ruling, “Ohio must follow the law, these kinship families are stepping up and they deserve and are entitled to these payments on behalf of the children.”“At a time when Ohio families are facing intense economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of Ohio is unnecessarily burdening children and families in need by failing to provide required resources to kinship caregivers,” said Jay Langenbahn, partner at the Cincinnati law firm of Lindhorst & Driedame Co. LPA.  “These are our Ohio families and kids and we must support them.”

“It’s unlawful and it makes no sense to treat kin differently — children and their relative foster parents rely on these resources for their most basic needs, like food and clothing,” said Ira Lustbader, litigation director for Children’s Rights. “Making matters worse, in Ohio Black youth are disproportionately removed from their families and placed into foster care, and the refusal to pay their approved kinship caregivers the required federal supports compounds this racial inequity. The state needs to fix this now.”

“These vulnerable kids and kinship families need lawyers to stand up for their rights,” said Daniel Turinsky, a partner at the national law firm DLA Piper LLP.  “This is a just cause and we are proud to be a part of it.”

Click here to read the full Complaint »

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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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