By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Hamilton County and the state of Ohio were fined $1.8 million Friday for blocking white families from adopting African-American children between 1995 and 2000.
The U.S. Administration for Children and Families, which levied the unprecedented fine, also said that Ohio's adoption rules contain a loophole that may encourage future civil rights violations.
The fine follows an October report by the federal Office of Civil Rights that detailed numerous instances in which caseworkers at Hamilton County's adoption agency delayed and derailed white parents' efforts to adopt black children. Black children younger than 2 waited an average of 223 days to be adopted, investigators found, while white children averaged a 145-day wait.
The Administration for Children and Families "finds that Ohio, directly and through its county public children services agency in Hamilton County, discriminated against children and families (some more than once)," Assistant U.S. Secretary Wade Horn said in a letter to Tom Hayes, director of the state Department of Job and Family Services.
The violations will cost the state 2 percent of its federal money for child welfare services for one quarter, the letter said. Ohio's 88 counties use the funding to investigate child abuse and neglect as well as place kids for adoption and foster care.
State and county officials were surprised and disappointed Friday by the fine - the first levied by the Administration for Children and Families for such adoption violations.
"It's not going to serve any purpose but to take money away from children," said Lora Jollis, assistant director for children's services in Hamilton County.
Jollis said the county has fixed the problems and detailed changes in a report sent to the Office of Civil Rights earlier this week.
"It's hard for me to believe they've read it and paid any attention to it," she said.
Even Cincinnati attorney Scott Greenwood, whose lawsuit on behalf of several families led to the federal investigation in 2001, expressed concern Friday that a fine would hurt families and children.
But Wade said the penalty is meant to correct a problem.
"In assessing penalties, (the agency) seeks to encourage Ohio to ensure that children in foster care and the families who wish to adopt them are not subjected to discrimination," Wade said in a statement.
The state will appeal the fine, Ohio Job and Family Services spokesman Jon Allen said. Officials haven't decided how much of the penalty would be passed through to Hamilton County.
The second surprise for officials Friday was the federal agency's objection to a state regulation that permits race to be a factor in placing a child if a licensed psychologist or social worker can justify it.
"Hamilton County has made overtures to obtain state approval of its right to enlist the opinion of child psychologists known to be opposed to transracial adoptions in virtually every case," Wade's letter said.
That's the first the state has heard about that concern.
"That came completely out of the blue," Allen said. "We'll look and make sure our rules are consistent with state and federal law."
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