Guest, Sarah LaTourette, newly-appointed Executive Director of Ohio’s Family and Children First Council (FCFC) discusses the unified effort to end Child Relinquishment wherein families have had to give up legal custody of their children in order to qualify for Medicaid assistance for mental health, addiction, and juvenile justice services in Ohio.
The problem: A family has a child in need of significant mental health services. Perhaps there are some addiction issues. Maybe trauma. School may be out of the picture.The courts might have now become involved.
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There are intervention services and treatments available, but they are exceptionally expensive. The family doesn’t make much, yet they do not qualify for Mediciad funding for such services. There is a solution, but it is a drastic one.
When this type of situation occurs, parents are sometimes faced with the unfathomable decision of relinquishing custody of their child in order to obtain the services and resources needed. This is called Custody Relinquishment
Parents legally sign over the custody of their child to the state in order for their child to qualify for the Medicaid funding needed for resources, treatment, and services.
Mothers and fathers have to give-up legal custody of their child in order to help that child heal and recover.
Listen to Innovative Conversations Session 10 | Multisystem Youth and Ending Child Relinquishment with Sarah LaTourette
Moving Toward a Solution
Sarah LaTourette, formerly a Representative for the 76th district of the Ohio House of Representatives and newly-appointed Executive Director of Ohio’s Family and Children First Council (FCFC), is leading a state-wide movement to put an end to this Child Relinquishment dilemma. “Whatever the services, they can be very expensive. We’re talking about families that are not eligible for Medicaid for they are just above the income threshold,” she says. “Many youth and families receive services from various systems, from child protection and developmental disabilities services to mental health and addiction and juvenile justice services,” she says. “But there are times when the needs of a young person and their families exceeds the capabilities of these systems.
“We’re talking about families that have put second and third mortgages on their homes. They have sold everything they can. They have cashed out their retirement funds to try to pay for these services for their kids. And they’re still coming up short.”
So what the state – and many states across the country – then ask those families to do is to legally sign their kids over to the state so that they become “Medicaid eligible” and thus qualify for those resources, services, and supports for the family, whether it focuses on intensive in-home interventions and supports or a stay at a residential facility to work out some issues.
“But what a horrible thing to even ask a family to consider doing. Whatever the reason, whatever the potential good outcome is, I don’t think anything can justify asking a family to do that.
The problem, she says, is that such systemic state-wide change just doesn’t happen overnight.
A Unified Effort to End Child Relinquishment Sooner than Later
Sarah LaTourette leads an executive collaborative of state agencies tasked with streamlining and coordinating state services for children and their families: Identifying where there are gaps in services; clarifying why we have asked families to make the decision of relinquishing custody of their child; and determining what can be done to fix it so that parents aren’t put in the position of relinquishing custody. The Ohio legislature has recently stated officially that it is the intent of the general assembly that custody relinquishment, in order to gain Medicaid mental health resources and services, will cease in the state of Ohio. Everyone, she says, agrees it’s unacceptable and the goal is to put an end to it.
Perhaps as important, the collective efforts have made it so that Ohio has developed a state-level fund from which counties can apply for funds to help such youth and families in need, regardless of Medicaid eligibility.
This fiscal year, ending June 30, 2020, there has been $8 million allotted for which counties can apply on behalf of youth and families in their community. For fiscal year 2020-21, there has been budgeted $12 million.
From the FCFC website: “County Family and Children First Councils (FCFCs) via a grant agreement with the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) may seek multi-system youth custody relinquishment funding. Funding must only be requested to support children and youth who are at risk for custody relinquishment or have already been relinquished and need services and/or supports to transition to community and/or non-custody settings.
“Complete applications that meet all of the requirments outlined in this guidance document will be vetted by a multi-system team composed of child/youth serving state agencies, and funding will be authorized (or not authorized) by ODM. Authorized funding will be subject to the terms of ODM’s executed grant agreement with each County FCFC.”
“As of February 10, 2020, we have 69 youth covered by these funds across 35 different counties,” says Sarah. “Thus far, we have spent over $1.5 million. So we hope more counties and families become aware of the fund and the resources out there and the alternative to custody relinquishment. The goal is to make a real difference in some of these kids lives, beginning with keeping families intact.”
ONE OF THE MORE PROMINENT DISCOVERIES has been the gaps in services in various regions of the state. And it’s important to identify where these gaps are occurring. “So we have pockets of the state where we see youth having to go into residential care where it might not be the appropriate level of care, but there aren’t in-home services and supports like MST, ICT, and IHBT,” she says. So through this process, in addition to more immediately helping children and families, there is also the ability to pinpoint where there is a dearth of these types of high-fidelity in-home treatment services.
The main challenges ahead, says Sarah, is the general resistance to change and modernizing processes and procedures, especially when talking about ‘modernizing’ councils”. It is so vast, she says, that it is not an easy conversation. “Finding a path forward where we don’t interrupt the progress of what is working in individual counties and communities is a priority of our mission. And we are not trying to make every county look alike.” The goal, she says, is to identify promising practices and what the evidence shows is working in individual communities and have the state support these initiatives for youth and families in need. “The challenge and goal is to truly find a way to make this work for all 88 counties in Ohio.”
There are reasons for optimism and hope, as well. “It appears there is consensus and focus on making this happen,” says Sarah LaTourette. “From Governor DeWine’s passionate commitment to serving these families on down through the deputy directors serving on the FCFC’s and the counties and communities doing the hard work. We have the leadership at all levels to guide through these challenging conversations that will ultimately help make the necessary changes to better serve Ohio’s families.”
About Sarah LaTourette
Sarah LaTourette served three terms representing the people of Ohio’s 76th House District which includes most of Geauga and northern Portage Counties. During her time in the legislature, she focused on advancing legislation to help Ohio’s most vulnerable youth and served as the Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Multi-System Youth during the 131st General Assembly.
For her work improving the lives of Ohio’s children, Sarah LaTourette has earned the Public Children Services Association of Ohio’s Gayle Channing Tenenbaum Legislator of the Year Award, the Ohio Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs Legislative Champion Award, and the Ohio Children’s Trust Fund’s Everyday Ohio Hero Award. Representative She is a graduate of Miami University and the proud mom of her son.
Ohio Family and Children First Council (FCFC) is a partnership of state and local government entities, community advocates, and families that work to enhance the well-being of children and families across the state by coordinating services, building capacity, and engaging families. | Learn More |