By Elizabeth Randolph and Raymond Allan
Maureen Centa is a mother of six; two biological, one adopted and three she and her husband adopted after having them as foster children.
“We adopted our girls at 11 and 13 after their biological mother couldn’t follow through with a plan to keep them with her,” Centa said. “After adopting them, our director told us about a 14-year-old boy who needed a home, but I didn’t think we were in a place to have more children. We ended up having him over for Easter and it was his first time decorating Easter eggs at 14-years-old and he was wonderful. When he left, I went upstairs and my husband had tears in his eyes and said, ‘that’s our son, too.’”
Centa and her husband were able to provide a home for three out of a reported 12,500 foster care children in the state of Ohio. Many of these children have been placed in multiple foster homes before they’ve reached the age of 18. Once they are 18, they have “aged out” of the foster care system and are left to fend for themselves in most cases. According to the Junior League of Cleveland, foster care children who age out are at a higher risk for homelessness, unemployment, human trafficking, public assistance and incarceration.
House Bill 50, an Ohio bill introduced by representatives Dorothy Pelanda and Cheryl L. Grossman, could allow children to stay under foster care guardianship until they are 21. The bill will give children an extra three years to learn about what goes into being an adult, as well as providing a safety net for them. If passed, children wouldn’t be required to stay in foster care once they are 18 if they feel equipped to live on their own.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine recently announced his support of the bill, in a column for the my Daily Dayton news.
“Research confirms that foster youth in states where the age limit has been raised are more likely to have some college education and earn higher incomes,” DeWine said. They’re also less likely to experience teen pregnancy or incarceration.
DeWine also stated that his office has issued a $1 million grant for “Ohio Reach”, a program that connects kids who are aging out of foster care with opportunities for a higher education.
Caring for Kids is a private adoption and foster care agency where Centa works as a recruitment and training coordinator. The career change came after she realized she loved working with foster children. CFK provides adoptive and foster parents for children who have nowhere else to go. Centa said the agency also has programs foster children once they are 18.
“Once a foster child ages out of foster care, it can be difficult for them to keep those relationships because they’re so used to (once they leave the home) not having a connection with the family anymore,” she said. “For our agency, we have Wendy’s wonderful kids program provided by the Dave Thomas Foundation and Wendy’s restaurants. The program provides us with grants for recruiters whose main focus is to find someone from a foster child’s past who could possibly adopt the children. When that’s not attainable, we provide permanency partners for children so that when they are 18, they have someone who agrees to help them by taking them grocery shopping or adding themselves as a reference for them to get a job or an apartment.
Centa said in addition to what Caring for Kids provides, some colleges like Cleveland State University have college programs for children who are about to or have aged out of foster care. Cleveland also provides resources for foster care children who are 18 with College Now Greater Cleveland.
“These are great programs, but there’s still a lack of resources for kids once they’re 18,” she said.
House Bill 50 has yet to be passed and one of the biggest issues of the bill is it will take more of taxpayers’ dollars. In the state of Ohio, taxpayers pay for the money provided for foster parents, also known as “per diems”. With a per diem, foster families in Ohio are paid an average of $20-$30 a day to provide for the child, which varies from county to county. While this can be costly, reports from Junior League of Cleveland show that taxpayers pay on average $300,000 for students who age out of foster care. These costs are typically for prison costs, public assistance and other social costs the young adult may need as a result of not having other resources.
“Taxpayers don’t realize that they’re actually saving by supporting the bill,” Centa said.
Centa said foster kids who age out need support with or without a bill that makes it possible for foster families to do so.
“Even if a foster child is 18, they still need somewhere to go for holidays or just when they’re having a bad day at school,” she said. “This child lost every single thing that they know and they have to learn new ways of a culture and they need someone to help them with that and that is how I put it into perspective.”