Friday, December 22, 2006

6900 children in Kentucky foster care system

Rising costs pinch state's foster parents; help coming next year
Yetter, Deborah. Louisville Courier-Journal, April 23, 2006, pg. A1.

With five foster children and two adopted, Clifford and Shirley Hedges have to buy 10 to 12 gallons of milk a week.

An occasional dinner out for the Madisonville family can cost $100.

And with rising gas prices, it's more expensive to take daily trips in the family van to school events, sports practices, doctor s' appointments and other activities.

Financial help is on the way, but not until July 2007, when foster parents will get their first increase in expense payments in seven years. That concerns some parents.

Shirley Hedges and other parents said they are happy to get the increase of $3-a day for expenses, which lawmakers approved as part of the state budget.

But they wish the money would arrive sooner.

The state now pays foster parents about $20 a day per foster child, although rates increase for children with more complex medical or emotional needs.

"Three dollars a day for 30 days is $90," said Hedges, a former president of the state Foster Care Association. "That will buy quite a few groceries â*" quite a bit of milk."

It's harder to catch up when foster families go years with no increase, she said. The daily rate is designed to cover the expenses of an additional child but hasn't kept up with the actual costs, Hedges said.

The foster-care increase is among a number of increases for human services in the two-year budget that begins July 1. It will increase payments to about 3,350 foster families in Kentucky.

Advocates said they generally were pleased with what lawmakers set aside for funds for families and children.

"Of course there's still a lot of individuals out there who need services, but at least we're going forward," said B. Russell Harper, director of government relations for Christian Care Communities, the state's largest non profit private provider of social services. It provides foster- care services, supervised living for disabled adults, nursing home care and other services for the elderly and disabled.

The reason for the delay
Lawmakers wanted to increase payments for foster parents starting this July, but because of a lack of funds, they delayed the increase for a year, said Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown and chairman of the House human services budget subcommittee.

Despite an overall tight budget, Lee said he's pleased with some of the programs lawmakers were able to include for human needs, calling the budget "very, very good in the family- service area."

Cindy Cushman and her husband, Kerry Rice, also are foster parents. They have five young children at home their two birth daughters, adopted twin boys who came to them as foster children, and one foster child.

And the Louisville couple also look forward to the increase.

"That would definitely be helpful," said Cushman.

Cushman, a Presbyterian minister, said the increase could help with the family's food, utility and gas bills that have risen steadily since they began caring for foster children three years ago.

"A lot of the costs that every family has you just have more of," she said.

Grandparents, others to benefit

The budget also includes:

--$26 million more to care for the increasing number of children removed from homes because of abuse or neglect.

--An increase of about $1 million a year for adult day care, which will allow the state to increase by about $5 a day the rate it pays centers that serve adults with disabilities or mental retardation.

--A program to provide financial assistance for low- income grandparents who are raising grandchildren but don't qualify for other state assistance.

Lee said he's been pushing for years to help the increasing number of grandparents raising grandchildren who aren't eligible for state assistance unless children were removed from parents because of abuse or neglect.

Social workers, foster parents needed
Debra Miller, with Kentucky Youth Advocates, said her advocacy organization was pleased with funding for families and children in the budget.

"It's a substantial commitment to kids," she said.

But Miller said she's still concerned that the budget contains no money to hire more social workers a need highlighted this year when the state attempted to put more social workers in the field without spending more money by reassigning supervisors.

The proposed reorganization aimed at reducing rising caseloads â*" sparked an uproar among social workers, lawmakers and advocates, and officials are trying to devise another plan by consulting with workers.

"However, there were no new social workers funded," Miller said.

One reason the state needs more social workers and foster families is the rising number of children removed from homes because of abuse and neglect. The state is currently caring for about 6,900 such children.

Social workers investigate such cases, have children removed when necessary and find them foster homes or placement with relatives, when possible. They also work to reunify families or place the child for adoption and follow the child's care in the meantime.

The state also needs more foster families, according to foster parents .

'People don't do this for money'
Cleona Edmonds, 76, a Louisville foster mother for 30 years, said she probably will stop taking foster children now that her youngest foster children, twins who just turned 18, are attending vocational school and expect to leave home soon.

But Edmonds said she will continue to recruit and mentor other families willing to do the work.

"There is such a great need for more foster parents," she said.

Cushman said the work is demanding and costly but can be enormously rewarding. That's why she said she thinks the rate increase, while helpful, probably won't affect people's decisions on whether to be foster parents.

"People don't do this for the money," she said. "You have to really want to do this."


Post a Comment

<< Home