The OCALI policy team created the Ohio Interagency Work Group on Autism (IWGA) State Fiscal Year 2019 Report entitled “Supporting Ohioans with Autism Across Agencies, Across the State, Across the Lifespan.” The report, released in July, details the progress being made in Ohio toward the IWGA’s mission to improve the coordination of the state’s efforts to address the service needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorders and the families of those individuals.
Additionally, the state of Ohio’s biennial budget was finalized in July after a delay of 17 days past the state’s deadline. Importantly, the OCALI policy team was part of the Ohio Multi-System Youth Coalition, a network of parents, child advocates and service providers that worked hard to ensure that the budget included important provisions to end forced custody relinquishment of multi-system youth so those young people can access needed treatment.
The term ‘multi-system youth’ refers to children and teenagers with complex behavioral, physical and developmental needs that require the assistance of multiple state and local departments and agencies. Sometimes the needs of these young people are so profound that they require services, such as out-of-home residential treatment, that private insurance or Medicaid don’t pay for. This forces parents to make the heart-wrenching decision to relinquish custody of their children to a child services agency so they can get the help they need.
“For many years, families like mine suffered alone and in silence. It feels like someone has finally heard us,” said Whitehall resident Mark Butler. Butler was forced to surrender custody of his son Andrew to gain access to residential treatment for behavioral issues related to severe Autism, mental illness and an intellectual disability. “Governor DeWine, Speaker Householder, Representatives Lipps, Romanchuk and West, Senate President Obhof, Senate Minority Leader Yuko, Senator Hottinger and the entire Senate Finance Committee have all given me hope that the state cares about children like Andrew and has found the resolve to address this issue.”
Parents and advocates have worked for five years to end this practice of forced custody relinquishment. This budget cycle they found allies in Governor DeWine’s cabinet and in both parties in the House and Senate.
“We are grateful for support from Ohio’s Governor, House and Senate to end this horrible practice,” said Gayle Channing-Tenebaum, Medicaid Consultant for Children and Youth, Center for Community Solutions Policy Fellow, The Voinovich School, Ohio University. “It is especially heartening to see such broad bipartisan support for these families with many champions on both sides of the aisle.”
In the final budget, the state Family and Children First Council will have to develop a plan to reduce forced custody relinquishment by the end of the year and it also includes a requirement to create an $18 million Multi-System Youth Custody Relinquishment Fund for families facing custody relinquishment.
“Each day across our state, families like mine face heart-wrenching choices to get the care they need for their child,” said Jerry Freewalt, a parent who once faced the prospect of forced custody relinquishment. “Thank you so much for what you have done.”