To the Editor:

As director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, I know the critical needs of the 3,100 children currently awaiting adoption in Ohio’s foster system — including 16 in Wood County.

As the father of two children adopted through the foster system, I’ve personally experienced the highs and some of the lows of “the system” but know firsthand the joy of being a foster and adoptive parent.

The first goal of Ohio’s foster system is to safely reunify a child with their birth family, but foster and adoptive parents become a critical option when that is not possible. The key to success in matching a child with the right family is in understanding the connections in that child’s life. It is a labor-intensive process that is thoughtfully done by our children services professionals.

I recently had the pleasure of joining Lt. Gov. Jon Husted in announcing Ohio as the first state to begin using two new technology tools by Connect Our Kids that will help these professionals connect Ohio’s foster youth with forever families. The Family Connections and People Search tools, help children services professionals build a digital family tree that helps identify and engage family and supporters of children in foster care, including far beyond just those in current contact with the child’s parents.

The quicker we can build a picture of what a child’s support structure might be, the quicker we can identify a potential kinship caregiver, and if that’s not an option, a foster caregiver or adoptive parent willing to step in.

If you’ve considered being a foster caregiver of adoptive parent but found the thought overwhelming, two other recent initiatives that might help. The Resource Family Bill of Rights and Foster Youth Bill of Rights, help ensure both the caregiver and youth have a voice in their care.Every child deserves a forever family, and the State of Ohio is committed to making the path to that family easier on the children, social service professionals, and individual caregivers. But, ultimately, it is up to individuals to open their heart and their home to give these children the support they need.

Matt Damschroder