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Foster Care in Ohio: "It Made Me Who I Am Today"

Burgeoning caseloads are straining child welfare workers in Ohio, whose duties include home visits with the children in their care. ( Stock)
Burgeoning caseloads are straining child welfare workers in Ohio, whose duties include home visits with the children in their care. ( Stock)
May 9, 2019

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Jerica Estle-Grooms had a drastically different childhood than most children in Ohio. And as a young adult, the former foster child now is speaking out about the needs of children in foster care.

Estle-Grooms says she entered her first foster home at the age of 12, after losing both her parents to drug overdoses.

"So many kids out there witness abuse and neglect, and having foster homes gets kids them away from that and allows kids to be independent," she states.

After emancipating from care at age 18, Estle-Grooms worked full-time to put herself through college. She says she was fortunate to have been taken in by a friend's family, which still supports and encourages her today, as do her caseworkers.

"I've been through foster care and I've lived it day in, day out,” she states. “It made me who I am today. But I honestly, couldn't have done it without the support of Children's Services."

Estle-Grooms recently shared her story with an Ohio House committee, and spoke to the need to better support the foster-care system.

Lawmakers must have been listening, as $60 million for child protection was added in the House version of the budget. It doubles the current allocation for county children's services.

In Ohio, 3,500 more children are in the custody of county agencies than five years ago. Jill Wright, director of Adams County Children Services, explains this is partly the result of the opioid-abuse crisis.

"I've worked here 27 years,” she relates. “The number of children entering in to foster care is tremendous. The kids are having more complex trauma. We're dealing with children with mental-health issues, child abuse and neglect issues, unruly delinquent issues."

Wright says finding and paying for placements for children with such extensive needs is difficult. She adds that burgeoning caseloads are straining staff, whose work includes home visits with the children in their care.

"A lot of our children are placed in other counties, so that's a full day of travel,” she points out. “Then you have to make contact with the biological family – mother, father, anybody else involved with the child.

“That's just not one home visit. That could be five or six to try to get this family back together."

The Ohio House is expected to vote on the budget in the next couple of weeks, and it then heads to the Senate for consideration.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH