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Ohio’s Fostering Sibling Connections Act: House Bill 448

Sponsored by State Representatives Sarah LaTourette and Janine Boyd, and championed by Adoption Network Cleveland: The Ohio Family Connection, Ohio House Bill 448 would safeguard sibling relationships for children and youth in foster care and adoption. The bill was introduced in January of this year and has been assigned to the House Community and Family Advancement Committee. The sponsors have held two Interested Party meetings to discuss the bill’s provisions, and we expect committee hearings to begin soon, hopefully before the state legislature goes on summer recess.

Purpose of Proposed Change
Currently, under Ohio law, the relationship between a parent and a child controls the relationship between siblings. Upon adoption, the child's legal relationship to their siblings is severed, and it is unclear in law whether the termination of parent’s rights of a child in foster care ends a sibling relationship. Although federal and state law requires children in foster care be given the opportunity to visit with their siblings, this right does not extend beyond adoption and can be withheld by caseworkers without direct judicial consideration. Siblings should be a source of comfort and stability for children as their relationships to the adults in their lives change. Therefore, Ohio law should allow siblings to petition for visitation and preserve their legal sibling relationships.

Proposed Changes to Ohio Law in HB 448
1. Define sibling to be those sharing at least one biological or adoptive parent or raised in the same household as siblings. This broad definition allows those who consider themselves siblings to get into court. The judge may then take the amount of time living in the same household, blood relationship, and other factors into account when granting visitation.

2. Clarify that, in line with the federal Fostering Connections Act, a public children services agency "shall" make reasonable efforts to place siblings together and maintain frequent contact, unless it is not in their best interests, rather than "strongly encouraged to" or "should" make reasonable efforts.

3. Explicitly state the sibling relationship extends beyond the termination of parental rights "permanent custody order" and adoption in order to allow for inheritance, notification for placement in substitute care, and the right to petition for visitation.

4. Specifically allow for siblings (minors and adults) to petition for visitation where at least one of them is in the custody of juvenile court or has been adopted. Visitation would be granted only when it was in the child’s best interests.

For more information or to get involved, contact Betsie Norris at betsie.norris@adoptionnetwork.org. To see Adoption Network Cleveland’s policy statement on siblings, visit our website.

Danielle Gadomski Littleton is a member of the Adoption Network Cleveland Board of Directors and chair of the Public Policy Committee. Betsie Norris is the founding executive director of Adoption Network Cleveland.