Transitioning into foster care or an adoptive family can be an immense, overwhelming experience. Keeping siblings connected during these transitional times, and after, is imperative to temper trauma, but currently is not necessarily the legal precedent in Ohio. Adoption Network Cleveland: The Ohio Family Connection, in collaboration with others, aims to change this through Ohio House Bill 448.
"HB 448 brings Ohio in line with standards outlined in federal law as well as recognized best practices," said Betsie Norris, executive director of Adoption Network Cleveland. "Ohio's children, and their brothers and sisters, deserve attention to these issues."
Ohio House Bill 448 addresses issues that many of us take for granted. How many of us (outside of foster care and adoption) have thought that as children our legal and emotional relationship with our siblings could dissolve, and through a situation beyond our control? Not many.
According to the Children's Bureau of the Dept. of Health and Human Services, siblings are typically the longest standing relationship most of us will have over our lives – spanning more years than parents or spouses. Siblings offer bonds, shared life experiences, lessons in social skills, and more. For children who enter foster care or lose other family bonds through adoption, the sibling relationship can be all the more important and act as a buffer and promote resilience. For example, a young child's secure attachment to an older sibling can diminish the impact of adverse circumstances such as parental mental illness, substance abuse, or loss.
This is not the first time that Adoption Network Cleveland has been involved with legal change. "Adoption Network Cleveland has been involved in legislative advocacy throughout our existence, primarily focused on elevating the collective voices of those most directly touched by our state's laws in this area: adoptees, birth and adoptive families, and youth in foster care," Norris said. "This year we are focused on siblings. Siblings should be a source of comfort and stability to children as their relationships to the adults in their lives change."
On June 20, the Ohio House of Representatives Community and Family Advancement Committee heard testimony for HB 448, and Adoption Network Cleveland played an active role in organizing witnesses to testify, which included:
• Amanda Davis, a social worker and foster care alum
• George Graham, an adoptive parent
• Jessica Lawson Camargo, a recent law school graduate and foster care alum
• Pacey Lawson, Jessica's 14-year-old daughter
• Mike Kenney, co-director of the local non-profit "Kinnect"
• Betsie Norris and Zoe Breen Wood (social worker and adoptive parent) through written testimony.
Appreciative and attentive, the committee commented on the timeliness of the issue with family separation in the news, and thanked witnesses for turning their personal experiences into passion that might give thousands of Ohioans a better future.
Ohio House members will be on recess until September. In the meantime, they need to hear from you. Show your commitment to keeping families together by writing a letter to your Representative and members of the Community and Family Advancement Committee. Together, we can, and will, support the well-being of Ohio's children.
• To find out who your Representative is, visit the Ohio Statehouse website.
• See a sample letter format to send to your representative.
• Get involved by contacting Betsie Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Read testimony and other items related to the bill.
• Get an overview on the provisions in HB 448.
• Read through the Sibling Issues in Foster Care and Adoption bulletin developed by the Child Welfare Information Gateway and made possible by the Children's Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This bulletin reinforces our stance, and contains the body of research, back up and reasoning behind the main elements of HB 448 and why it is crucial for Ohio to address these issues.
Betsie Norris is the founding executive director of Adoption Network Cleveland.
PHOTO: Left to right are Aaron Ockerman (Adoption Network Cleveland legislative affairs), George Graham, Amanda Davis, Mike Kenney, Betsie Norris, Jessica Lawson Camargo, Pacey Lawson.