On October 24 and 25, 2019 state legislators and policy staff from more than 10 states gathered in Columbus, Ohio for a policy convening focused on examining policy approaches that can improve foster parent recruitment, retention and support. The meeting hosted by the National Conference of State Legislatures in cooperation with CHAMPS.

Participating legislators included: Rep. Ivy Spohnholz (D-AK), Rep Scott Kawasaki (D-AK), Rep. Pamela Dickerson (D-GA), Sen. Erin Houchin (R-IN), Rep. Colleen Madigan (D-ME), Rep. Kimberly Rice (R-NH), Rep. Kelly Pajala (D-VT), Rep. Les Gara (D-AK, retired), and Charles Roskovensky, Chief Counsel Health Committee, West Virginia House of Delegates.

Mayor of Columbus, Andy Ginther, helped to kick off the meeting with welcoming remarks.  He spoke about his own parents who were foster parents and shared stories of growing up with foster siblings.  [He also speaks about his foster siblings in this new video.]

Senior officials from Ohio children’s services agencies spoke about efforts underway in the state to improve child welfare services and strengthen including family-based care.  Speakers included: Kristi Burre, Director of the Office of Child Welfare Transformation and Brie Lushek, Deputy Director of Children’s Initiatives.  Other staff from Ohio’s agencies and legislative offices participated.

Other presenters included Rita Soronen, president of Ohio-based Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, who shared highlights from the foundation’s implementation of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids in states across the country.  Foster parents, youth, and service providers also spoke about what’s needed in Ohio and highlighted promising strategies for helping birth and foster parents and kinship caregivers have the support they need to effectively care for children.

Legislators spent time sharing examples of legislative efforts in their own states and discussing ideas for new legislative approaches. For example, Sen. Erin Houchin shared spoke about Senate Bill 1, which was enacted earlier this year (bill summary here).  Legislators from Alaska shared insights from their work in developing and enacted House Bill 151 (bill summary here).

See this new podcast produced by the National Conference of State Legislatures featuring Sen. Erin Houchin (R-IN) and Rep. Ivy Spohnholz (D-AK) speaking about challenges and opportunities to caring for teens in foster care and related policy initiatives to support foster parents and better meet the needs of children and youth.

The CHAMPS campaign developed new materials to share with legislators at the Ohio convening to encourage and assist their efforts in championing policy improvements. These resources include:

  • State policy update highlighting legislation enacted in 2019 related to foster parent recruitment, retention and support (here)
  • Opportunities for state legislators to engage and champion foster parenting policy improvements (available here and below)
  • Policy guide on data-driven foster parent recruitment, retention and support (guide here)
  • Policy guide on foster parent advisory councils (guide here)
  • Policy guide on foster parent support peer networks (guide here)

Legislators can:

  1. Sponsor legislation. Engage lawmakers, child welfare agency leaders and key stakeholders (including foster, birth and kinship families and youth) in the development of legislative policy that provides the framework and the resources necessary to create a child welfare system that prioritizes and supports family-based care.
  2. Facilitate information sharing about challenges and solutions. Hold hearings and/or forums to highlight what’s working to recruit and support foster families and where improvements are needed. Ask the child welfare agency to share data such as: number of foster homes available, number of children needing homes, foster parent turnover rates, and number of teens in family-based settings (and those who are not).
  3. Stay abreast of agency decision making. Require child welfare agency to share and report to legislature on relevant agency policy, such as the state’s diligent recruitment plan, foster family licensing standards, and foster parent training and support services.
  4. Promote cross-agency collaboration. Encourage child welfare, early learning, health, mental health and other agencies to establish a cross-agency work group to ensure coordination and a child-centered approach. Be sure to involve multiple agencies in decision-making about the mental health, substance abuse and parenting services that are provided to birth, foster and kinship families.
  5. Promote new partnerships. Encourage the child welfare agency to collaborate with foster parents, community and faith-based partners, employers and others as they develop and implement their foster parent recruitment and retention plan.
  6. Help build community support and awareness. Publicly show support for foster families and highlight the critical role they plan in helping our most vulnerable children and families heal and thrive. Encourage child welfare agencies and community partners to do the same!

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