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Archive for Sunday, December 3, 1989

FOSTER HOMES SHORTCHANGED BY BUDGET CUT

December 3, 1989

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Low pay is not going to stop two Douglas County women from providing foster care nothing would. They believe the desire to help others and their faith in God will keep their homes open to children in need.

But Madalon Vann and Ruby Adams, who along with their husbands provide two of 35 family foster care homes in Douglas County, say the financial reimbursement provided by the state does not come close to filling all the needs of the children they take into their homes.

They say the difference between what the state provides and what the children need always comes out of their family budgets.

And now, a decision by the chief of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services to cancel a 10 percent increase in reimbursement for foster care providers will put the Vann and Adams families further behind.

THE 1989 Kansas Legislature passed a 15 percent increase in the rate of reimbursement, and 5 percent of the increase went into effect in July.

But Winston Barton, secretary of SRS, canceled the 10 percent increase that was to go into effect Jan. 1. A number of legislators have objected to the cut, and it is expected to be considered during the regular session of the 1990 Legislature, set to begin Jan. 8.

Although both Vann and Adams, who is the president of the Douglas County Foster Care Assn., said they were disappointed by the decision to drop the increase, their response was mild compared to the reaction from officials who operate four of the nine group foster homes in Lawrence.

Gary Duncan, executive director of The Villages Inc., which has five foster homes in Topeka and three in Lawrence, caring for 80, 6- to 18-year-old foster children, talked first about the negative effect the 10 percent cut will have on his organization's budget.

DUNCAN SAID the announced cut comes in the middle of The Villages' fiscal year, and the budget of The Villages will have to be reworked and personnel may have to be cut because the additional state funds had been counted on for this fiscal year.

But asked to translate the effect of the cuts on foster children, Duncan said, "The eventual losers in any budget cut are the children.

"It will make it even more difficult to recruit and retain foster parents. And with that, children will either be inappropriately placed or not placed at all."

Another group home official, Rick Spano, administrator of Trinity Foster Home in Lawrence, said the 10 percent cut "will have a powerful effect" on that home's operation.

At Trinity, which is a small foster home that cares for six children who have what Spano called "significant emotional problems," the current state reimbursement for foster care covers only 60 to 65 percent of costs. Even with a 10 percent increase, Spano said, "we would not have been close" to covering all costs.

IN FAMILY foster homes, foster parents are reimbursed $205 a month for caring for a child up to 4 years of age, said Jim Baze, section chief of social services for the SRS in Lawrence. For children ages 5 to 11, the reimbursement rate is $277 a month, and for children age 12 and older, the rate is $351 a month.

In group homes, the rate of reimbursement is paid per child per day, but it also is determined by the level of care the child needs.

Baze said most group homes in Lawrence are Level 4 homes, and the present state reimbursement is $48.11 per day per child. A Level 5 group home for more difficult children is reimbursed $63.01 per day per child, while in a Level 6 group home, which are seldom used in Lawrence because children need extensive psychiatric therapy, the rate of reimbursment is $178.51 per child per day.

Concerning the decision by SRS to cut the scheduled 10 percent reimbusement increase, Baze said that foster parents' reactions to cancellation of the 10 percent increase in reimbursements has been varied.

"Some families are almost self-conscious about getting paid, and they do it on almost a purely volunteer basis," Baze said but added that foster care providers still need to receive enough money to make ends meet.

BAZE SAID that historically Kansas has never covered all the costs for providing foster care, but the state had been moving in that direction because of the quickly increasing need.

Baze said that requests for more money from the foster parents he works with have nothing to do with the needs of the foster care providers.

"It's for the kids, not for their own needs," he said.

Bruce Linhos, executive director of the Kansas Association of Licensed Private Child Care Agencies, which is based in Lawrence, said the level of payment for group and family foster care has been eroding against inflation for years.

He said that one year, the Legislature might grant a 5 percent increase in reimbursement, the next year give nothing, and the year after that give a 3 percent increase.

"This has really brought the whole system to the point of crisis," Linhos said. Inflation and an increase in the number of children in SRS custody have created the crisis, he said.

BOTH DUNCAN and Spano said they will attempt to increase private fund-raising because of the state funding cut. But each said there is a limited amount of private funds available.

"We're trying to be aggessive with private funding," Spano said. "But it's not that the private sector isn't helping. But more help is needed than the private sector can do."

At the Vann home, anything three to six foster children get besides the necessities comes out of the family budget. Vann said, for example, that things like Christmas presents or sports equipment are not covered by the state reimbursement.

Adams said that a year ago, she sat down to figure out how much the job of being a foster parent paid if it were calculated on an hourly basis.

She found that for caring for children up to five years of age, the rate was 48 cents an hour; for teen-agers, 62 cents an hour.

And Vann said in 1986, the United States Department of Agriculture determined the cost of raising a child at $632 a month.

"That can vary from state to state," she said. "But the rate of reimbursement in Kansas obviously does not come anywhere close."

If the 10 percent increase had been allowed to go through, "the only thing I can say is it would have allowed us to do more for the children," Vann said.

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