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Foster parents would get less cash under Ind. cuts

In this March 17, 2010 photo, Jordan Blackburn, 5, looks around in the sorting area of Jordan's Place, a not-for-profit, in Brownsburg, Ind. Jordan was adopted from foster care by parents Terry and Ruth Blackburn who started the charity in 2008 to provide clothes and other items to foster children. Indiana is trying to shift hundreds of foster children with medical, emotional or behavioral problems into cheaper care for children without special needs, a move that cuts payments to families who care for the state's most challenged children. In this March 17, 2010 photo, Jordan Blackburn, 5, looks around in the sorting area of Jordan's Place, a not-for-profit, in Brownsburg, Ind. Jordan was adopted from foster care by parents Terry and Ruth Blackburn who started the charity in 2008 to provide clothes and other items to foster children. Indiana is trying to shift hundreds of foster children with medical, emotional or behavioral problems into cheaper care for children without special needs, a move that cuts payments to families who care for the state's most challenged children. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
By Charles D. Wilson and Carly Everson
Associated Press Writers / March 28, 2010

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INDIANAPOLIS—Indiana is trying to shift hundreds of foster children with medical, emotional or behavioral problems into cheaper care for children without special needs, a move that cuts payments to families who care for the state's most challenged children.

The change would give foster families less money to pay for therapy, food and clothing and other costs. And some fear that fewer families could volunteer for the job in the future because they'd have to cover the bills themselves.

Foster parents who provide homes for special-needs children are paid up to $100 a day. Under the state's new plan, many would receive $25 or less.

"Twenty-five bucks a day -- it's not a lot," said foster parent Terry Blackburn of Brownsburg, Ind., who has fostered more than 100 children with his wife, Ruth. "If you go buy a pair of shoes and a pair of pants for the kid, you've already spent your $25."

The changes, made quietly without public attention, come as officials are attempting to cut $56 million from the cost of providing for the more than 10,000 children who are in the state's care because they could not remain with their families. The Department of Child Services announced plans in late 2009 to cut payments to those who provide homes for the children by 10 percent. Overall, the cuts would reduce the state's costs by about 8 percent by June 2011.

Many other states, including Arizona, California, Missouri, Ohio and Utah, also have cut spending on children's services because of budget problems. Some states have reduced payments to foster homes or group facilities or considered laying off caseworkers.

"The states are getting pounded, and this is one of the few times I've seen child welfare really get hit," said Michael Petit, president of the advocacy group Every Child Matters.

According to children's advocates, Indiana put its new policy on special needs children into effect at the beginning of the year when it directed private agencies that specialize in finding foster homes for hard-to-place children to begin offering traditional foster care as well. Then, the state began shifting special-needs children into the lower-cost care.

Children who have special needs include pregnant teenagers, victims of sexual abuse, infants born to drug-addicted moms, those with severe medical problems or with behavioral problems that lead them to act violently.

According to placement agencies, a 1-year-old boy born with cocaine and marijuana in his system and behavioral problems was placed in traditional care at one facility. Two siblings who had been sexually abused by relatives, including an 11-year-old girl who vandalized her foster home and threatened her foster mother, also were reclassified.

The state wouldn't say how many children have been reclassified. But one placement agency official said almost half his special-needs children were downgraded; another official said all the children at some agencies were affected.

DCS Director James W. Payne said in a Dec. 1 letter to providers that the agency had "reluctantly" ordered the 10 percent cut. Indiana's reimbursement rate for the traditional care, which would drop from $25 to $22.50, would remain among the nation's highest, he said. His letter did not mention shifting the special needs children.

"These have been incredibly difficult deliberations and everyone involved recognizes the magnitude of the decisions being made," the letter said.

A federal judge has temporarily blocked the cuts and reclassifications after foster parents and private agencies filed suit. The state is appealing the order.

Citing the litigation, DCS spokeswoman Anne Houseworth declined to comment on the cost-cutting measures. But she said the state's goal is to provide children the care they need while paying less when appropriate.

Foster parents and children's advocates say if the state prevails in court and proceeds with its plan, many children who need help won't receive it, and some won't find homes at all.

"They can't just lump all foster children together as one classification. It just doesn't work," said Judy Hurst of Carthage, Ind., who has cared for more than 300 foster children with severe needs in the last 20 years.

Hurst said she does not know how she and her husband, Denny, could continue at the lower rate.

They keep the doors locked and security cameras rolling at their house east of Indianapolis. Foster children have stolen from them or damaged their home. The Hursts currently are caring for a pregnant teenager and a boy Hurst describes as "probably the most abused child we've had in our 20 years."

"We've devoted our whole life to other peoples' kids," she said. "We don't want to stop doing this. We don't want to stop working with kids."

Chris Morrison, executive director of the Indiana Foster Care and Adoption Association, said foster and adoptive families can't shoulder the costs of the special therapy needed.

"There's this philosophy that's trying to be promoted that you're adopting out of love and therefore all of this should come out of your pocket. It's not a genuine reality," she said.