Taft OKs changes in adoption process

Date: 2006-06-22

Taft OKs changes in adoption process

Barb Galbincea
Plain Dealer Reporter

More extensive reviews now will be required before children can be adopted into large families.

The bill, signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Bob Taft, also allows foster children who haven't been adopted by the time they are 18 to consent to adoption as adults; creates a computerized system to protect children by sharing information about abuse and neglect investigations statewide; and gives more adoptees access to their medical and social history.

A more detailed assessment will be required when a child is about to be adopted into a family that already includes four or more children.

The requirement grew out of a Huron County case in which Michael and Sharen Gravelle were accused last fall of making their 11 adopted special-needs children sleep in cages.

Crystal Ward Allen, executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, said the assessment is an important safeguard to determine whether a family can adequately care for another child.

With lots of children in need of permanent homes, she said, well-intentioned caseworkers who find families willing to adopt may unwittingly “overload” those parents. The new assessment is meant to trigger discussion – not block large-family adoptions – and allow caseworkers to be proactive in providing more support services if a family needs them before adopting, said Allen.

Another element of the new law allows those who reach the age of majority, or “age out” of the system, while in the permanent custody of the county or a private agency to find a family. Betsie Norris, executive director of Adoption Network Cleveland, welcomed that provision.

Even though the numbers aren't likely to be large, “For the young people it does affect, it's huge,” Norris said, noting the emotional benefits of being part of a family, as well as legal advantages such as the right to inherit.

Previously, the law allowed such a young person to be adopted only by a foster parent or stepparent with whom he or she had a relationship as a minor.

Tami Lorkovich, associate director of Adoption Network Cleveland, said the artificial deadline to find adoptive homes for the oldest teens didn't make sense.

“We all know you don't stop needing a parent when you turn 18,” she said.

The network partners with the Cuyahoga County Department of Children & Family Services and private agencies on a targeted campaign to find homes for hard-to-place youngsters.

Allen said the new Statewide Automated Child Welfare and Information System authorized by the legislation will give caseworkers across the state access to “real time” information from other counties. That will allow child welfare workers to quickly determine whether there were abuse or neglect cases when a family lived elsewhere in Ohio or whether there is a relative who could take in the children if necessary.

Rick Smith, deputy director of the Office for Children & Families at the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services, said a 90-day pilot project testing the new system is about to begin in Muskingum County and the whole system is expected to be phased in by Jan. 1, 2008. Cuyahoga County will be the last to join the statewide system.

Smith said the state wants to be sure the information system is working well before bringing on board Cuyahoga, which already has its own tracking system and represents almost a third of the state's caseload.

Among other provisions of the broad bill is one that allows adoptees access to medical and social information about their birth families, although without identifying those families.

Previously, depending on when they were adopted, some Ohioans were denied such access.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: bgalbincea@plaind.com, 216-999-4185

© 2006 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.


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