Proposal would help parents keep custody of troubled kids

Posted at 11:48 AM, May 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-26 11:48:49-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A legislative proposal would allow Ohio parents to avoid an often heart-breaking decision: giving up custody of troubled children so they can receive desperately needed and expensive services.

The amendment to Ohio's two-year budget is aimed at so-called "multisystem youths," those needing help from service agencies that cover disabilities, child welfare and mental health.

Under the current system, parents sometimes must relinquish custody to the state to obtain help for their child because they don't have the money and insurance coverage.

The goal of the state should always be to maintain families, state Sen. Jay Hottinger, a Newark Republican, told The Columbus Dispatch.

"You scratch your head and say, 'How is this loving mother or father having to make the heart-wrenching decision to relinquish custody?'" Hottinger said.

Hottinger is backing a budget proposal that would provide $20 million over two years to give parents other options than giving up custody.

The money would be separate from Gov. Mike DeWine's proposed increase for children and family services agencies. Most of that spending would go toward child welfare agencies overwhelmed by the state's opioid addictions crisis.

If approved, the money to prevent custody relinquishment could be used to help parents pay for services not covered by Medicaid or private insurance, such as therapy, in-home and residential care, Hottinger said.

Previous efforts to use federal welfare dollars for the same purpose haven't been successful, the Dispatch reported.

Julie Callahan of suburban Columbus finally turned custody of her 14-year-old son, who has severe autism and mental illness, over to Franklin County Children Services last fall.

"In my mind, I knew I was doing the right thing," Callahan told the Dispatch. "In my heart, it was the worst."

Callahan's son, Jackson, has been at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center since October. So far, case managers haven't found an opening at a residential treatment center that meets his needs and is acceptable to the children services' agency, Callahan said.

Tamisha McKenzie, of Columbus, twice surrendered custody of her teenage daughter — in 2015 and 2017 — to obtain psychiatric care. McKenzie often found herself excluded from treatment discussions, and a records mistake once kept her from visiting her daughter in the hospital, she said.

People are recognizing there must be a better way to support such families, said Marla Root of the Ohio Autism Insurance Coalition, a group that advocates for improved insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders.