Friday, April 27, 2007

1,400 of Kentucky's 7,000 foster children are in residential treatment centers

State boosts children's home aid
Yetter, Deborah. Louisville Courier-Journal, April 24, 2007, pg. A1.

Private residential centers for some of Kentucky's most severely abused or neglected children are getting some extra financial help from the state.

Starting July 1, the state will provide about $4.7 million in increased payments over 12 months for children it sends to the nonprofit, mostly faith-based centers, Mark D. Birdwhistell, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said yesterday.

The action comes after lawmakers failed in the 2007 legislative session to approve about $7.5 million that centers such as Home of the Innocents and Brooklawn Child and Family Services had requested to keep up with rising costs.

"We're elated," said Jerry Cantrell, executive director of Bellewood Presbyterian Homes for Children in Jefferson County. "We can stop stretching things so thin and get back to the total focus on taking care of the children."

About 7,000 children are in state custody because they have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect.

About 1,400 are at private residential centers, and the rest are in foster care, with relatives or in other placements.

Bart Baldwin, president of Children's Alliance, representing about 40 such centers, said the rate increase — the first since 2000 — will help until 2008, when the alliance hopes lawmakers will consider extending the rate increase .

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, and Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, agreed that the centers the state relies on to care for such children are overdue for a rate increase.

But the increase got bogged down among other spending disputes in the session's final hours.

Meanwhile, officials with the centers said they were being forced to cut back services — or close altogether.

"This will really make it so that we can survive," Cantrell said.

The state — which doesn't operate any facilities for children removed from their homes — pays private centers about $170 to $180 per day, depending on the child's needs.

Officials say that hasn't kept up with the rising costs of providing 24-hour supervision and care for children, some who are severely emotionally disturbed.

They estimate the costs at $200 to $240 per day — and they say they struggle to make up the difference from donations, fundraising and help from sponsoring church organizations.

Birdwhistell said Gov. Ernie Fletcher approved the cabinet's plan for a one-time reshuffling of funds to help the private centers.

The move takes about $4.7 million from a fund used to help low-income parents pay for child care but replaces it with federal funds the cabinet reallocated.

"It's not to the detriment of any program," said Tom Emberton Jr., the cabinet's undersecretary for child and family services.

Ralph Risimini, president of the board of St. Joseph Children's Home in Louisville, said the increase will help his facility — but he hopes the state takes a more comprehensive look at paying the true cost of caring for children.


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