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Sunday, December 15, 2019

Jonathan Thomas and others share their voices at the NW Foster Care Forum

Residents give recommendations to state foster care council in Bowling Green
Brooks Sutherland, Toledo Blade,  December 9, 2019
Jonathan Thomas of Bowling Green was a foster-care child and knows what it’s like to feel helpless after turning 18 and “aging out” of a home that provided stability after early years of turmoil.
“I don’t know if there are a lot of young adults who are actually ready to leave home when they turn 18,” he said Monday at a state-organized foster care forum at the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services. “Even those who come from good, stable homes, often find themselves having to return for a number of reasons, such as finances, relationship trouble, and stress.”
The need to prepare foster kids for “life after foster care,” was a recommendation given by Mr. Thomas Monday and was one of many heard by members of Gov. Mike DeWine’s newly-formed Children Services Transformation Advisory Council, which was created through executive action last month.
The council in November, announced 10 planned foster-care forums, and made its way to northwest Ohio Monday night to hear how it can improve the system that houses around 16,000 kids in the state.
Kristi Burre, the director of the office of Children Services Transformation, was appointed to co-chair the council alongside LeeAnne Cornyn, the director of the Governor’s office of children’s initiatives.
Ms. Burre said the forums are a listening period for the council before they write recommendations about how to improve the foster care system in January.
“The reason that we’re doing these forums is so the advisory council can travel all around the state and hear about local challenges from those who are involved or are impacted by our system,” she said. 
Ms. Burre said the governor has “charged” his cabinet members and executives with a mission to travel around the state and hear from stakeholders. 
“A lot of it just listening,” she said. “Truly listening and then doing something with the information.”
Recommendations Monday night in Bowling Green ranged from treating family caregivers the same as foster-care parents as far as funding goes, to setting up programs for post-foster care, to providing checks and balances for state and local departments of job and family services.
A packed house listened to public testimony, some speakers getting emotional as they described their experiences in the system. 
“My problems didn’t go away,” Tryshana Garraway, a University of Toledo student, said about life after foster care. “I still had mental health issues, I still had financial issues. I didn’t know how to do things.”
Shirley Wagner, a former foster-care child who became a foster-care parent, gave four recommendations to the council, urging them to “focus on stability,” and provide checks and balances on DFS.
“I think I speak for all of us here when I say there’s a problem with our foster-care system,” she said.
Tricia Cox, a foster-care parent of nine years, who estimates she’s had 58 kids come through her home, said the state needs provide additional resources to ensure kids get to have “normalcy,” as they develop.
“I have a 17-year-old boy who wants to drive, he cannot drive because the agency won’t take the responsibility for insuring him,” she said. “That’s not normal. He wants to drive. He wants to work. Things like that need to be looked at.”
Josh Martin, a veteran and former foster-care child, who sits on the board of directors of Community Teaching Homes, a Holland-based placement and behavioral health services organization, said he’s one of the few who “broke the cycle,” and encouraged the council to not waver on funding.
Jennifer King, a former foster-care child from Bryan, said there are problems all across DFS agencies and they should be addressed with some checks and balances, potentially from the sheriff’s offices.
“I am proposing an advisory council to oversee JFS,” she said. “They need some checks and balances. They are not accountable to anybody but themselves.”
The state will host three more regional forums before the end of the year and then three more in January.

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