On Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, Governor DeWine held a press conference to announce the final release of the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council's final report and recommendations to reform Ohio's children services and foster care system.
Governor DeWine's heart for foster youth was reflected in his opening remarks, during which he reiterated the need to focus on children and their best interest. He spoke about about giving foster youth a shot at living the American dream, and said, "Foster youth's health and safety needs to remain the North Star... The children/teen's rights need to come first."
The second speaker was Office of Children Services Transformation Director Kristi Burre. She spoke about trying to improve the lives of families and children throughout Ohio, and trying to include the voices of all Ohioans, across the entire continuum of the system. Her focus was broad, but she did include the quote that, "Foster youth have a right to be at the table."
Some of the highlights she mentioned were consistent screening of child abuse and neglect reports, the establishment of a statewide Ombudsman's Office, the need for normalcy, and the creation of a Bill of Rights for foster youth and for foster caregivers.
She also spoke about Adoption Best Practices, such as Wendy's Wonderful Kids and Permanency Roundtables, and juvenile justice collaboration -- which will include establishing some Best Practices regarding GALs.
The third speaker was Melinda Sykes Haggerty. As an adoptee and former foster youth, Melinda shared that she feels this is her life mission. She thanked Governor DeWine for his unwavering dedication to improving outcomes for foster youth throughout his career.
Melinda reflected on her experience on the Advisory Council, and shared that it was a balance of complicated family dynamics and interests. She spoke about the listening tour, and the honor and necessity of listening to and responding to those who have lived experience.
She said that, out of all of the recommendations, she is the most proud of:
- The future establishment of a Statewide Ombudsman's Office, especially with Ohio being a county-run system
- Efforts to improve normalcy
- Efforts to promote permanency, especially for older youth, in order to support a successful transition into young adulthood
Final remarks were made by ODJFS Director Kim Hall. Her closing words included the desire for a continued collaboration with foster care youth and alumni.
After that, they opened it up for questions from reporters. The first reporter asked about child fatalities, and referred to a specific case of child abuse in Dayton.
Governor DeWine responded that, "We have to do better for these kids. The child's rights need to come first. These are tough decisions, but we need to focus on children."
Reflections, when it comes to the OHIO YAB and ACTION Ohio:
- The beauty and clarity of our work as foster care youth and alumni in the state of Ohio is that we can hone in on what can best improve outcomes for the young people themselves.
- And have the ongoing responsibility to do so.
- Let’s make sure that the health and safety of Ohio foster care youth and young adults remains the North Star.