Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ohio foster parents under scrutiny

In Ohio, since the death of Marcus Feisel, the state is looking more closely into the criminal records of foster parents, and figuring out how to manage the process of ongoing screening.

Marcus' foster father, David Carroll, had been arrested for domestic violence, but child welfare agencies did not know about it, because the only criminal background check for Ohio foster parents was at their initial certification.

Now, in Hamilton County, foster parents - and anyone over 18 living in their homes - will undergo continuing background checks. .

305 of Hamilton County's 750 foster children are living with parents licensed through the county. Those parents have been or are being checked.

While conducting background checks on their current Hamilton County foster parents, officials discovered that 27 licensed foster parents had been arrested on charges including welfare fraud, assault and domestic violence and child endangering.

Background checks have not yet been conducted on Hamilton County foster parents who are licensed licensed through private agencies.

The county is also working with law enforcement on an 'instant notification system' if a foster parent is arrested. All new foster parents are entered into this system. Current foster parents have 30 days to agree to register, or the county will remove the children from their homes

Another issue is that, throughout the state, communication breakdowns often occur between public and private agencies:

- Counties sometimes place children in private agency foster homes without communicating with private agencies, to make sure that this will be a "good fit" for the child.

- Counties refuse to disclose information to private agencies (e.g. counties refuse to place children with a certain foster family, but won't tell the private agency why).

- Three Ohio counties refuse to fill out dispositional letters for private agencies seeking information about foster parents.

Ohio will soon house all of their information about foster placements in S.A.C.W.I.S. (State Automated Child Welfare Information System).

Every state is "supposed" to have a statewide central registry for foster parents, but few actually have one.

Good news
Private agencies will finally be given the same information that public agencies are given. It will be kept in one place (ODJFS) to avoid having to contact all 88 Ohio counties, in order to find out if a foster parent has allegations against them in another county.

Information-sharing between counties and private agencies that provide foster homes is important because "level of care" is a huge issue.

It is not fair to the foster parents, nor to the children, to place a child with special needs with foster parents who lack the training and expertise to meet that child's needs (e.g. the Gravelles).

-Unsubstantiated allegations will be booted after 3 months.
-Indicated allegations will be booted after 5 years.
-Substantiated allegations will be booted from the system after 10 years.

Now, I realize that foster parents can be falsely accused, and that they don't want this to follow them around forever.

However, if a foster parent is accused of physical or sexual abuse of a child, and these allegations are 'substantiated,' should that foster parent have another chance to take in more children 10 years later?

According to state law, a felony conviction will preclude someone from being a foster parent. I know that assault on an adult is a felony conviction. What about assault on a child?

As a former foster child, my primary concern will always be the safety of children.

Background checks turn up Ohio foster parent arrests: Child's death spurred closer look at system. Lexington Herald-Leader, March 5, 2007, pg. B3.
Brown, Jessica. Criminal checks get OK: Foster parents have 30 days to agree. Cincinnati Enquirer, March 8, 2007, pg. C1.
Foster parents get ultimatum
Coolidge, Sharon. Allow background checks or lose children, agency orders. Cincinnati Enquirer, March 6, 2007, pg. A1.
McCarty, Mary. Keeping track of foster parents vital. Dayton Daily News, March 8, 2007, pg. A4.

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Seems like foster parents are becoming another product recall.
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