State of Ohio to consider foster care age extension


Brian Lewis has been through Ohio’s foster care system.

Danielle Hess

Ohio Fostering Connections, an organization committed to helping youth in foster care, has strong support from citizens when it comes to the legislation of Ohio House Bill 50.

According to the Ohio Fostering Connections website, the bill, sponsored by House Representatives Dorothy Pelanda and Cheryl Grossman, states that the age of foster care should be extended from age 18 to age 21. 

Mark Mecum, chair of Ohio Fostering Connections, said his organization started planning the bill when Congress passed a federal law allowing states to extend the foster care eligibility age in 2008.

“Ohio wasn’t on the list of states extending the foster care age at that time, which was really frustrating for me,” Mecum said. “We (the organization) started planning the bill soon after that. We’re hoping the state will pass the bill and implement the foster care age extension throughout the state.”

Ohio considers extending foster care to age 21 from Cory York on Vimeo.

Mecum said the organization conducted a cost benefit test, and results showed that after 10 years of being implemented, youth who participated in the foster care program would have better social outcomes, which would benefit Ohio taxpayers in the long run.

Reyahd Kazmi, director of business advancement for the National Advocate Youth Program, said youth in foster care shouldn’t be denied support due to age.

“We can’t neglect those who are most in need because of their age,” Kazmi said. “Not every young person is in the same place at 18, and they may not be able to fully support themselves without the critical services they use to receive the day before they turned 18.”

Kazmi said House Bill 50 would positively affect foster children, as well as the State of Ohio as a whole.

“From a financial standpoint, in the long run, it’s economically more efficient to invest on the front end by continuing services for this vulnerable demographic compared to the potential negative effects and extreme costs associated with not providing critical services for our youth and teens just because they turn 18,” Kazmi said.

Two representatives are sponsoring the bill, and Kazmi said more house members are likely to support the bill as well.

“There’s already a decent amount of support for the bill,” Kazmi said. “There are currently two original sponsors in the house, and at least an additional 13 have signed on as co-sponsors. That’s at least 15 out of the 99 house members, and more importantly, there is bi-partisan support on this. I’m confident even more members will join and support this endeavor as it makes it through committee.”

Lindsey Cornett, outpatient clinician at Six County, Inc., a counseling and rehabilitation provider in Ohio, and former intake social worker and investigator for Licking County Children’s Services, said she believes the legislation of House Bill 50 would be very beneficial to foster care youth.

“So many youth that have been through our foster care system have missed out on stable homes where they were taught everyday life skills, money management skills and responsibility,” Cornett said. “Sadly, when circumstances are so bad that kids need to be removed from their biological homes, these kids are already behind their peers in many domains. Those extra years would allow for such education and hands-on living skills.”

As a former social worker, Cornett said she’s seen many teens “age out” of foster care and do poorly in the real world.

“When I worked for children services, we saw kids age out all the time, and a lot of the time they were lost. No jobs, no strong support in the community and no sense of belonging or purpose,” she said. “There is a high rate of incarceration for these young adults, as well as them being involved in children’s services as young parents.”

While many people are on board with the legislation of House Bill 50, others are unsure about what exactly the bill entails.

Jessilyn Schroyer, senior chemistry major at Kent State, said she would agree with passing the bill if there were certain requirements and limitations.

“I agree with the bill if it’s only extended for educational purposes,” Schroyer said. “Other than that, I don’t see why it should be extended because people will just use the system further. You’re still getting money and food stamps through foster care, so I don’t really see the difference between this and welfare.”

Schroyer said she feels like many people don’t understand her viewpoint on the subject but stands by her opinion because of her own personal experience as a foster care child.

“I was in foster care, and my caretaker received foster care benefits and didn’t use them on us,” she said. “If all of the money and services is going directly to the youth between ages 18 and 21, then I can see this bill as a potential benefit, but if it doesn’t go directly to them, then I don’t think I agree with the age extension.”

Schroyer said she agrees that House Bill 50 services could help youth stay out of trouble, but she said foster care children receiving the services should be monitored to make sure government money is being used in a positive way.

“Since foster care youth are sometimes following the wrong path in life, they should have to complete a drug test to benefit from services offered by the bill,” she said. “This way, state and federal government can assure their money is being put to good use.”

Contact Danielle Hess at [email protected] and Cory York at [email protected].