The adoptive families of three former foster children filed a federal class action law suit against Warren County March 14, claiming through their attorney that the county denied them "vital financial support" after the adoptions.
"We aren't out to get anybody," said the mother of a child identified in the suit as Plaintiff A. "But we are out to protect other families. I hate to say it this way, but I am tired of being lied to."
The two families, members of which declined to share their names in order to protect the children at the center of the suit, adopted children who had at one point been considered "special needs" by the justice system.
"Special needs" can include disability, age, a history of abuse or over a year spent in the custody of Child Services, and all of them can damage a child's chances of permanent adoption. Plaintiff A's mother said that realizing the long odds of adoption facing her foster daughter moved her to become the permanent parent who might otherwise never arrive.
"We started off strictly as foster parents," she said. "We had no intention of adopting … (but) they pretty much said, ‘This child is not going home, and she is pretty much unadaptable because of history and age. We said, ‘We are not going to make this child make another switch and go to another family.'"
Under the federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, the adopting family of a child with "special needs" is entitled to some form of compensation that would help them address those needs through counseling, medical care and other services.
Counties across the country and across Ohio provide just that for the families of more than 18,000 children, including about 160 in Warren County.
However, according to the suit, Warren County failed to make either family aware of that entitlement -- even when the parents directly asked about it.
"We specifically asked that question," Plaintiff A's mother said. "‘Is there any money available?' And we were told, ‘No, she doesn't fit that.' We believed them."
Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who represents the two families, claimed Warren County consistently under-serves and under-educates adoptive families in this manner, and in the process it "significantly impairs foster children's chances of permanent adoption in the best suitable home, disincentives foster parents who are interested in permanently adopting their foster children and strains families who have adopted children who are considered special needs."
According to the suit, about 40 percent of eligible adoptive parents in Warren County never see a check after their foster child becomes their adopted child. Gerhardstein said this figure hurts children's chances of finding a longterm home and families' ability to meet those children's needs.
"When they were fostering, they got as much as $20 a day or $600 a month … then you go down to zero because you fall in love and try to build stability for the family," he said.
Warren County prosecutor David Fornshell, who represents the county's Child and Family Services department, denied Gerhardstein's claims in a statement.
"We believe that WCCS's policies and processes regarding subsidy payments to parents who choose to adopt children are both appropriate and consistent with federal and state law, and further believe the court will come to the exact same conclusion," he wrote.
Gerhardstein said he expected a hearing within the next month and added that more families were approaching him about the issue. Some of them could become witnesses and class members in the case, he added.
"Have I ever represented a group of heroes before? It's not very common," he said. "These are such wonderful people."
Read the full federal law suit:
Editor's note: WCPO does not normally use anonymous sources. However, WCPO staff members use anonymous sources in rare circumstances when such sources are the only way to obtain information vital to the public good or to protect the well-being of vulnerable people. WCPO staff members have vetted these sources and believe the information they provide to be accurate and in good faith.