As a society, we are leaving too many children behind.
Our child welfare agencies are overwhelmed by the number of kids entering the system, and the addiction crisis is only making it worse. For one third of all the children entering the system in Ohio, parents’ substance abuse is listed as one of the causes. We have to do better.
Last year we passed the bipartisan Family First Prevention Service Act, which was an important first step in improving our child welfare system, but the changes the Family First Act requires ultimately must be made at the state level. That requires us to ensure states have the support they need in order to actually do what the law requires.
That’s why I introduced the Family First Transition and Support Act, to help all states transition to the Family First era.
Our bill would expand funding for kinship support services, which help family members raising children pay for essential needs and services, like childcare, and transportation.
We have seen a rise in other family members raising children because of the addiction crisis – in Ohio, we have seen a big increase in grandparents raising grandchildren. These relatives face unique challenges, and don’t often qualify for the same support as a foster parent, which can mean going back to work, or taking money out of retirement savings.
Our bill would get Ohio caregivers more support – support they could use to help buy school supplies or put food on the table, or even pay a utility bill. It would also provide support to parents struggling to care for their children, because poverty should never be the reason a child is separated from their parents, or the reason why a child cannot return home.
Finally, the bill would invest in child welfare caseworker training and development, enhance the child welfare Court Improvement Program (CIP), and provide new resources to help states serve older kids, and recruit and retain foster parents.
Last year we were able to break through the partisanship and get the Family First Act signed into law. This bill is the commonsense next step.
I hope that my colleagues will live up to their talking points about supporting children and families, and that we can all work together to support this bill.
Sherrod Brown is a Democratic U.S. Senator representing Ohio.