Controversy has erupted in Cuyahoga County, Ohio following reports that its Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has been housing foster children in an office building. While the department calls the move a “last resort” for children who haven’t yet been matched with a home, concern has grown with news that some kids spend weeks in the building.
A Last Resort?
“While we work very hard to find immediate, appropriate placements for any child who cannot be cared for by his or her own parents or family, there may be a period of time when a child stays in the child care room at the Jane Edna Hunter building while we work on finding the right placement for that child’s needs,” county spokesperson Mary Louise Madigan said, according to 19 News.
“We work to make sure this is for a short amount of time — hours — but there have been times lately when placements, particularly for children with intense needs, are not immediate,” she continued.
Specifically, a 17-year-old boy has been living in the building for more than a month after arriving on May 28. Outlets are also reporting on a 14-year-old girl who spent several days at the facility and a 13-year-old boy who stayed there for over a week.
“This is definitely a last resort,” DCFS Deputy Director Jackie McCray said to News 5. “We try to exhaust all options and for whatever reason, the caregivers or the providers are unable to meet their individual needs.”
McCray agreed that living in the building for extended periods is not an ideal situation for foster children.
“Despite all the things we can put in place, this is not a home, this is not a family, so it is a last resort when we have exhausted all other means to find a family-like or therapeutic placement for a young person,” she said.
Advocates Speak Out
In response to the story, advocacy group Children’s Defense Fund Ohio has released a statement denouncing the practice.
“Let’s be clear — if the child’s birth family was housing them in an office, it would not be seen as acceptable and would likely be seen as grounds for removal,” the statement read. “To house a child for even one night in the Children’s Services offices is unacceptable, to do so for three weeks is a gross violation of that child’s rights and [an] indication that our capacity to serve children in need [is] insufficient.”
The Ohio Family Care Association (OFCA) has also weighed in. Administrator Dot Erickson-Anderson attributed the issue to a lack of guardians willing to foster teens.
“Not many people who want to adopt are looking at teens, they’re looking at smaller children,” she said, according to 19 News.
McCray echoed these sentiments, citing a reduced capacity for the state’s foster care system to handle the abundance of cases.
“I would say it’s a crisis situation for not just Cuyahoga County DCFS, but across the state of Ohio,” McCray said.
The Children’s Defense Fund Ohio is now calling for action, including the immediate placement of kids living in the county offices and the strengthening of private and public placement systems.
“The situation demands needed changes and improvements beginning with collecting data to ensure accountability, strengthening the overall child welfare system to meet the demand, and preserving child welfare funding,” the organization’s statement read. “We are in a perfect storm and all our elected officials in Cleveland, Columbus, and in Washington, D.C. must do all they can to protect and serve vulnerable children.”