A move by the Ohio legislature to restrict records on foster parents, by no longer allowing public access will have an adverse effect on its purpoted beneficiaries.

Shielding foster parent records will not help kids, regardless of what proponents say.

Foster parents do a tremendous service for the community. This is not in doubt. For various reasons including neglect, children must be removed from their homes in some cases. Foster parents fill the role of surrogate parent and give children in their care much-needed time, attention and care.

By doing so, foster parents head off a multitude of future problems that might have arisen otherwise had their charges been allowed to remain in situations of abuse and neglect. Immediate harm to the child is averted. Likewise, social ills including increased risk of poverty and a future cycle of abuse are mitigated.

It's for precisely this reason that they need to be held to the highest standards of accountability. The way to do this is by making problems public. .

The decision to remove a child from his or her home is a drastic one. It sunders, if even briefly, a protected right to raise children without unnecessary intervention. Some ability to monitor how often and under what factors such decisions are made seems vitally necessary.

Moreover, even children in the foster system may be at risk. Despite the best screening procedures, it is certainly possible abuse can happen in the system. Without the means of checking on placements, how is it possible for the system to be monitored?

Recently, House Bill 214 was passed unanimously by the Senate Health, Human Services and Aging Committee. The Ohio Newspaper Association, of which the Putnam County Sentinel and Putnam County Vidette are members, had made a compromise proposal that the names of foster parents and dates of placements and removals of children would remain public record.

The bill is likely going to the Senate floor for quick passage. As written, it calls for shielding all records of foster parents. The only public records stipulation is for the records of anyone denied foster parent certification or whose certification is revoked.

SB 164, which is similar to HB 214 but without any public records exemption, is going through hearings in the House Juvenile and Family Law Committee. But the sponsor of the bill, Republican Senator Gary Cates, refuses to budge. Governor Ted Strickland (D) has taken the same position.

It is unlikely that the House committee will do anything to change the concept that is now in HB 214.

Meanwhile, a legal action by the Cincinnati Enquirer for release of foster parent names is in the works.

The paper's suit is still pending before the Ohio Supreme Court. Oral arguments were heard on Jan. 8 and it's likely to be a few months before a decision is rendered.

To maintain safeguards on the system, it seems vital to allow oversight. The alternative is to allow the state to wield considerable power without having to account for its actions.

Contact your congressman and let him know that government records should stay open. State Representative Lynn Wachtmann can be reached at 614-466-3760 77 S. High St., 11th Floor, Columbus, OH 43215-6111 or by e-mail at Maassell@ohr.state.oh.us. State Senator Steve Buehrer can be reached at 614-466-8150 Senate Building Room #125, First Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215.