PODCAST: Ohio foster parents: Providing safety, nurturing families

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman

(OHIO NEWS CONNECTION) – National Foster Care Month in May celebrates Ohioans who care for children in times of crisis, and as the calendar turns, the focus shifts to an important objective.

June is National Reunification Month, which highlights bringing families back together.

Heather Mason, a foster parent in Lancaster, explained foster children need safety and stability.

“These kids need people besides them,” Mason asserted. “They’re just normal teenagers going through things and want normalcy. And we definitely try to help them with that.”

Melanie Allen, director of Sandusky County Job and Family Services, said foster parents can help support visitation and mentor the children in their care.

“We believe in putting these children back home in a better type of setting,” Allen emphasized. “We really have a great set of foster parents who can model and coach parents.”

In 2021 about 4,500 Ohio children in the foster care system were successfully reunified with their birthparents.

Mason typically fosters teenagers, and acknowledged unfortunately reunification can be difficult. However, she tries to open up as many avenues as possible to help nurture relationships with biological families.

“One of our kiddos, her mom was in and out of drug rehab programs, and so we helped get her clothes, and foster that relationship between mom and daughter and try to show them that it can be different,” Mason recounted.

Allen explained there are more kids coming into care with significant mental and behavioral health needs. But she added there are not enough treatment-level foster homes to help ease the transition from a group or residential placement.

“We have a very difficult time getting them to step down and get into a homelike setting,” Mason noted. “And there’s a huge need for that in order to improve their own outcomes when they do leave care, reunify home, or even emancipate to become successful.”

About 12,000 of the children in the child welfare system in March were in family-based settings, with a quarter in treatment-level foster homes. Roughly 2,000 other youth were in congregate care, but advocates say more could be in treatment-level foster care if there were enough qualified individuals to take older children with behavioral challenges and work toward family reunification.

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