Navigating Child Welfare in Ohio
The child welfare system in the United States is complicated and may have a great impact on your family’s dynamics. Each state has a slightly different approach to its child welfare system. In all states, the child welfare system is intended to protect youth and help families improve their dynamics and reunify family members. However, often times reunification is a lengthy process and a court may need to first make certain determinations, depending on the situation of the child. In Ohio, the court may find that a child is abused, neglected, or dependent. Abuse, Neglect and Dependency are legal classifications. The adjudication of each of these is based on different legal reasoning and may lead to different outcomes. There are also general definitions of abuse and neglect that come from state and federal laws as well as experts on child health and the prevention of violence. However, this guide focuses on legal classifications.
In Ohio, there are several circumstances in which a court can find a child abused. An abused child is a child who:
Is the victim of "sexual activity" as defined under Ohio law, where such activity would constitute an offense under that chapter, except that the court need not find that any person has been convicted of the offense in order to find that the child is an abused child.
Is endangered as defined under Ohio law, except that the court need not find that any person has been convicted under that section in order to find that the child is an abused child.
Exhibits evidence of any physical or mental injury or death, inflicted other than by accidental means, or an injury or death which is at variance with the history given of it. Except as provided below, a child exhibiting evidence of corporal punishment or other physical disciplinary measure by a parent, guardian, custodian, person having custody or control, or person in loco parentis of a child is not an abused child under this division if the measure is not prohibited under Ohio law.
Because of the acts of his parents, guardian, or custodian, suffers physical or mental injury that harms or threatens to harm the child's health or welfare.
Is subjected to out-of-home care child abuse.
In Ohio, there are several circumstance in which a court can find a child neglected. A neglected child is a child:
Who is abandoned by the child's parents, guardian, or custodian.
Who lacks adequate parental care because of the faults or habits of the child's parents, guardian, or custodian.
Whose parents, guardian, or custodian neglects the child or refuses to provide proper or necessary subsistence, education, medical or surgical care or treatment, or other care necessary for the child's health, morals, or well being.
Whose parents, guardian, or custodian neglects the child or refuses to provide the special care made necessary by the child's mental condition.
Whose parents, legal guardian, or custodian have placed or attempted to place the child in violation of Ohio law.
Who, because of the omission of the child's parents, guardian, or custodian, suffers physical or mental injury that harms or threatens to harm the child's health or welfare.
Who is subjected to out-of-home care child neglect.
In Ohio, there are several circumstances in which a court can find a child dependent. A dependent child is a child:
Who is homeless or destitute or without adequate parental care, through no fault of the child's parents, guardian, or custodian.
Who lacks adequate parental care by reason of the mental or physical condition of the child's parents, guardian, or custodian.
Whose condition or environment is such as to warrant the state, in the interests of the child, in assuming the child's guardianship.
To whom both of the following apply:
The child is residing in a household in which a parent, guardian, custodian, or other member of the household committed an act that was the basis for an adjudication that a sibling of the child or any other child who resides in the household is an abused, neglected, or dependent child.
Because of the circumstances surrounding the abuse, neglect, or dependency of the sibling or other child and the other conditions in the household of the child, the child is in danger of being abused or neglected by that parent, guardian, custodian, or member of the household.
In some cases, the county agency may find it necessary to take custody of your child/children. There are a few different types of custody that are available to the agency. If the circumstances call for such action, the county may file for the court to grant Temporary Custody of the children. From there, the county agency will likely find a placement for the child such as a residential placement, a foster home, or in the home of another family. In extreme situations, the county will file for Emergency Temporary Custody. Emergency Temporary Custody is used when it is necessary to keep the child and/or parent(s) out of danger. Typical situations where the court will grant Emergency Temporary Custody include:
Child endangerment due to drug or alcohol abuse of a parent
Threats of mistreatment or abuse
Alleged sex abuse
Current custody is in the possession of a convicted sex offender
There are also other types of custody an agency may seek such as permanent or legal custody. The county agency will always look at what is in the child/children’s best interest when deciding whether to seek custody, protective supervision of the family, or no action at all.
The ultimate goal of the child welfare system is family reunification. Reunification occurs when a family has completed services, case plans, and other court sanctions. As a result, the court may grant custody back to the parents. Each family’s steps toward reunification is different, with some paths being far more difficult. The court and social services do the best they can to help a family achieve reunification. It is important to recognize that while the ultimate goal of the child welfare system is family reunification, reunification may never happen if it is contrary to the best interests of the child or if the family is unable to complete its case plan and services.
The court and social services will help the family build a case plan. A case plan sets forth the services, programs, and goals each member of the family should complete. Services and programs may include parenting classes, anger management classes, domestic violence programs, substance abuse programs, etc. Case plans may also require parents to complete specific tasks such as securing safe and appropriate housing for the family. Social workers, as well as the court, will work to ensure that the case plan addresses the needs and concerns of the family.
Navigating the Child Welfare Process
The Child Welfare Process begins and ends at different points for families. A case can begin with a report of suspected abuse or neglect to Children and Family Services. From there, the agency will conduct its investigations, and if necessary, will involve the court. If the court becomes involved, the process may be much lengthier and may require more from the parents. If your case goes to court, it is your right to have an attorney to represent you. In some counties, you may even have a public defender appointed to represent you on your abuse, neglect, or dependency case. In addition, the Court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem to represent the best interests of the child.
Duty to Report
Most likely, if your family has a child welfare case, you are probably wondering how the agency got involved. In many states, professionals such as teachers, doctors, lawyers, and others have a duty to report suspected child abuse or neglect. These professions are known as mandated or mandatory reporters. In Ohio, there are several mandated/mandatory reporters ranging from child care workers and healthcare professionals to lawyers and camp employees. To see the full list of mandated/mandatory reporters, click here.
This guide is intended to be an introduction to the child welfare system in Ohio. It is not intended to serve as legal advice and is by no means fully exhaustive. You have the right to speak with an attorney if you have legal questions or if you have a case pending in juvenile court.
This guide was developed as part of a project made possible by a grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the Ohio State Bar Foundation.
Lead researcher/author: Ricardo Vidal, J.D. Candidate, 2019, RedTreehouse.org Legal Intern