On January 27, 2017, in the case of D.O. v Glisson, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati found that children placed with approved, unlicensed relatives were eligible for federal foster payments on the same basis as children placed in licensed foster homes.
The decision included relative caregivers who assumed temporary custody of the children after they were placed with them by a public children services agency. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Kentucky’s appeal, making D.O v. Glisson the law of the land in the Sixth Circuit’s four states: Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee.
On April 1, 2019, Michigan began providing monthly foster care payments “to all relatives providing foster care, regardless of whether they are licensed or not.” Much has been written about children being placed with grandparents in the wake of Ohio’s opioid crisis. State and county officials in Ohio are well aware of D.O. v Glisson and its obvious application to kinship care. Yet, they have taken no steps to comply with what is now federal law. Ohio’s only response has been a deafening silence.
Ohio’s news media have reported the economic struggles of kinship caregivers to provide stable homes for already traumatized nieces, nephews and grandchildren removed from the homes of parents suffering from drug dependency. In January 2018, the Columbus Dispatch profiled Mr. and Mrs. Renda, a couple who planned to downsize, until the local county children services agency contacted them about becoming caregivers for their three grandchildren.
The story pointed out at the age of 65, Mr. Renda “can’t afford to retire or to buy another home.”
“I try not to think about what we gave up, because these kids are more important than any retirement we could have had,” said Mrs. Renda.
According to the Dispatch, the Rendas received $474 per month for all three children through the federal public assistance or TANF program. If the three children were in a licensed foster home, they would receive more than $2,000 per month.
“There’s worse-off people, we know,” Mr. Renda said. “I’m devastated because I see so many who don’t have anything.”
On May 14, 2019, station WCPO in Cincinnati told the story of Tameka Jones, who picked up her sister’s two children with 45 minutes notice after receiving a call from the county child welfare agency. Jones told the interviewer, “I didn’t want my nieces to have to go into foster care with someone that they did not know.” Adding the care of a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old to that of her own two children has not been easy. Jones confided, “I didn’t really have a lot of support when I became kinship, so I wiped out savings accounts. I wiped out checking accounts to make sure the girls had the things that they needed.”
Unlike 35 other states, Ohio declined to establish the federal Guardianship Assistance program created by The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008(Public Law 110-351). Guardianship Assistance provides the same percentage of monthly federal financial support as the federal Title IV-E Adoption Assistance program, along with Medicaid coverage for children placed in the care of relatives.
Under current Ohio regulations, county children services agencies are required to look for relatives who are willing to assume temporary custody of children removed from their parents’ care. When a relative caregiver assumes temporary legal custody, however, the child becomes ineligible for federal foster care payments.
D.O. v Glisson overturns Ohio’s current rules and offers an opportunity to improve the welfare of Ohio’s most vulnerable foster children. Given their circumstances, the great majority of children placed in kinship care would meet the eligibility requirements for federal foster care payments. Implementation would not be cheap, but would leverage millions of new federal dollars. Federal dollars would cover around 63 percent of each monthly foster care payment to a kinship caregiver. County governments would be responsible for the non-federal match of 37 percent. At a time when the state is planning to increase child welfare funding in its 2019 biennium budget, additional state funding could be directed to help counties provide matching funds.
Despite proposed increases in foster care funding in Ohio’s 2019 biennium budget, the state shows no signs of complying with the appellate decision or bringing the matter to public attention. How would thousands of dedicated kinship caregivers across Ohio feel if they found out, as a matter of federal law, they should have been receiving federal foster care payments for two years, but state and county agencies decided not to tell them?
As a matter of social justice, D.O. v Glisson should receive broad public attention, forcing the state to explain its silent non-compliance with federal law. What is the justification for taking advantage of kinship caregivers’ generosity and compassion while withholding assistance they desperately need?
Tim O’Hanlon is a consultant on foster care and adoption issues, and is a former management analyst for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.