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Posts tagged with Citizen Journalism Academy

Affordable Adoptions

Do adoptions really cost between $10,000 and $40,000 as stated in a LJW article of February 8? That was a long time ago but life intervened and caused this delayed response.

Well some adoptions are expensive. Adopting a child from another country or working with an attorney for what is called a private adoption like the one in the film Juno can be very expensive.

Adoption from one of the agencies that have contracts from the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) is virtually free according to the adoption coordinator of one of these agencies. She recommends that someone wanting to adopt might want to have a few hundred dollars available for miscellaneous costs. However most of these expenses will ultimately be reimbursed. Her agencies public relations people never got back to me about this piece so I can’t use her name. That is too bad because she does good work.

So there are affordable adoptions in Kansas and nearly 900 children waiting to be adopted. Kansans like citizens of most states provide financial assistance for adoption of children from the child welfare system. Much of this financial help is from federal funds.

Available financial assistance is detailed in Section 6000 of the SRS Policy Manual (http://www.srskansas.org/CFS/robohelp/PPMGenerate/). Examples include reimbursement of non-recurring adoption expenses of up to $2,000. This can be used for such items as attorney’s fees and travel expenses to court hearings. There is reimbursement for one-time only purchases limited to $1,000 per child for things like special equipment for children with disabilities, home modifications to make the house handicapped accessible and lifts for vans if needed.

Health care through Medicaid is available for special needs children. In addition, there is a possibility of a monthly cash subsidy to help meet the costs of providing for the child’s special and ordinary needs. The monthly payments are based upon the needs of the child and the resources of the family and range from $0 to $500 per month.

Not only are these adoptions affordable but they may be the most common type of adoption in the United States. The Children’s Bureau latest report shows that there were 50,379 child welfare adoptions during the 2006 federal fiscal year. While international adoptions are frequently in the press, the number of these pales in comparison. The United States Department of State reports 17,438 international adoptions in 2008.

In Kansas there were 712 child welfare adoptions during the state’s 2008 fiscal year. 53% of these children were adopted by foster parents. Foster parents have always stepped up and adopted children in their care. Increasingly relatives are coming forward to adopt children in the extended family and they represented 39% of last year’s adoptions.

There is still a great need for families to adoption children through public child welfare. SRS reports that as of 12/31/2008 there were 870 children waiting for adoption. These children have had their parental rights terminated or relinquished and are ready for a new family.

Adoption in Kansas can be inexpensive and is very rewarding. Let’s celebrate those foster parents and relatives who adopt child welfare children and encourage others interested in adoption to call one of the agencies contracting with SRS.

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McDonald’s, Paraguay and Kansas

Have you seen that annoying McDonald’s commercial with the two young women in an upscale coffee house? If you haven’t, you should be rewarded for not watching television. One of the women reveals that McDonald’s now has upscale coffee like cappuccino, latte’s and such. They get all giddy over the prospect of swapping their air of pretension for their neighborhood McDonald’s presumably dressed in jeans and flip-flops.There are many people in Kansas who find this particularly annoying. Why? Well, as the two women ramble on one says: “And I don’t know where Paraguay is.” The other looks puzzled and replies: “Paraguay?” At least I think these are the quotes. Hundreds of Kansans are a bit offended that this interchange is dropped in this commercial with no apparent connection to anything. Have you ever been in a group and someone insults a friend of yours? You probably feel a little offended. You may even speak up for your friend. Is the intent to be funny? Insulting?Hundreds of Kansans have the same reaction to the McDonald’s commercial because Paraguay and Kansas have been friends for over 40 years through Kansas-Paraguay Partners that is part of the Partners of the Americas program. Over the years Kansans have been hosted by the warm Paraguayan people.Kansans have shared their expertise with Paraguayans including helping upgrade the zoo in the capital city, starting a school for children with disabilities and sharing agricultural practices.Kansans have donated emergency medical equipment to help volunteer Paraguayan firefighters.Kansans have worked to promote democracy in a country that had the misfortune to be dominated by dictatorships for far too many years.Space does not allow listing all of the work that Kansans have accomplished in Paraguay or visa-versa.The friendship between Paraguay and Kansas has not been one-sided.Paraguayans have visited firefighters, cattle producers, small business development centers in Kansas.Paraguayans have taught in Kansas including Spanish and Guarini, the two official languages of the country. Many Paraguayans attend and have graduated from Kansas universities and colleges. One estimate is that 700 Paraguayans have studied in Kansas. Some Paraguayan students have expressed surprise at the McDonald’s commercials. What do they mean? Is my country the butt of a joke?The 40+ year friendship between Kansas and Paraguay is no joke and is one way to reduce foreign policy to people and families. It is a rare opportunity to get personally involved in our countries foreign policy. Maybe the commercial uses Paraguay because it is one country where there is no McDonald’s. If you want to get a glimpse of a pre McDonald’s world, visit Paraguay.

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The mental health needs of foster children.

46% to 49% of Kansas children entering foster care are receiving mental health services within six months. This eventually became 56%. This is according to a study done at the University of Kansas by Terry Moore and Becci Akin (http://www.socwel.ku.edu/occ/viewProject.asp?ID=75).These findings are consistent with national studies (i.e. Leslie, Hurlburt, James, Landsverk, Slymen & Zhang, 2005). It is not surprising that foster children need mental health services given that they enter care from a variety of troubled backgrounds including child abuse, neglect and their own troubling behavior which may be early onset of serious mental illness. Let’s hope that this is not an area for budget cuts in these dismal fiscal times. Our foster parents need all of the help that they can get in parenting our children. Another finding is that it is about 40 days on average from entry into foster care and first mental health contact. This is a concern given that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mental health screening for all children entering foster care within 24 hours and a comprehensive assessment within 30 days. Children entering care may not be screened for mental health needs using the best instrument. The report found that if a child under the age of 6 enters care and is screened for mental health needs, they are screened by a well regarded instrument. However this is not true for children over that age of 5.Finally (only in terms of this entry, the report’s 145 pages contains lots more information) 75% of foster children receiving mental health services are receiving only 1 or 2 different services. This is distressing given that one of the two services is assessment. More distressing is that only 5% of these services are family based. Most Kansas foster children need mental health services. However, it takes 40 days to get the process started. If the child is over the age of 5 the screening instrument may not be the best. The services provided may not go beyond a mental health assessment and only 5% of services are family based. So foster parents are not receiving the help they need to care for our children where it will do the most good, in the foster home. Certainly we can do better than this.

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Stevia, Sunflowers and Paraguay

http://worldonline.media.clients.elli... is about to be allowed to be used as a food additive in the United States says a recent article in the LJ World. What is Stevia?Stevia is a plant with leaves that taste like sugar and the extract is said to be 300 times sweeter than sugar. Some research indicates that it shows promise in treating high blood pressure and obesity. It was also banned as a food additive in the US from 1991 until now. We are still waiting final food additive approval. The banning of it is another story that is clouded in mystery. I suspect the sugar growers had something to do with it. Although it was available as a supplement for a long time. Try the Merc.Stevia is also a member of the sunflower family. I am not a botanist but that is what I am told. So here is an interesting connection. Kansas, the sunflower state, is partnered with Paraguay through the Partners of the Americas program. In the case of stevia Paraguay has been way ahead of the US for hundreds of years. The Guarani who predated the Europeans in Paraguay have long used Ka’ ahe’ê. That is ‘sweet herb’ in the Guarani language. Stevia is our word.The Guarani understood the health benefits of mate for a long time. They used it for heartburn and blood problems and to sweeten their yerba mate. Mate is another story. The consumption of mate is a treasured social ritual in Paraguay and other parts of South America. Yerba Mate is a tea that is sold in bulk like the package in the picture. It is placed in the cup along with stevia leaves (if you like your mate sweetened) and either cold or hot water is poured in (hot in the winter and cold in the summer). The result is sipped through the metal straw called a bombilla. Water for the mate is carried in a thermos bottle. This is a rather simplified description. There are lots of different ways of preparing mate.Paraguay is a hot in the summer, like Kansas, so drinking a lot of mate is a good way to stay hydrated. Paraguayan winters are relatively mild, unlike Kansas, so few houses have central heat. Mate with hot water is a great way to start a cold morning. There is also an entire social ritual for drinking mate in a group with hours of conversation, guitar playing and singing. It is a wonderful way to socialize. Kind of like coffee used to be in this country except local coffee houses have become solitary places with everyone plugged into a computer, media player or phone.If you see a KU student with a large thermos over their shoulder, it is probably a Paraguayan. Stop and say hi and welcome them to their partner state. They might invite you to share a mate.

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The holidays, economy and the homeless

This holiday time that celebrates something other than consumption has somehow become a time of excess. Yet the news on the economy is awful and it's all our fault. We aren’t consuming enough to keep the economy afloat. It’s all about personal responsibility. Just like the homeless. The Lawrence Community Shelter’s (LCS) newsletter came yesterday with news of people being responsible while struggling with personal problems. Go ahead start the tirades. I am going to speak kindly of the homeless and LCS.The newsletter features several success stories like that of ‘B’ who was helped to obtain housing outside the shelter. These are not isolated incidents. The newsletter includes data saying that 121 residents moved into permanent housing or applied for housing to the Housing Authority, 65 people obtained jobs and 55 people moved into substance abuse detox or rehab. These are just the results that I as a citizen of Lawrence want from LCS. I am sure that the Salvation Army and others who are working with the homeless are also showing results. I just don’t have their newsletters. So if you want to help the economy, help an agency that is successfully helping the homeless become productive members of our community. I am going to go out and buy some gloves and take them to LCS.Happy Holidays.

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23rd Street and Wall Street

http://worldonline.media.clients.elli... Street has a credit crisis for large banks and Lawrence has a credit crisis for people with a lot less income. While Wall Street has the US Treasury as a cheap or no cost source of credit, Lawrence has plenty of sources of high cost credit.The street with the traffic and fast food restaurants is also a busy financial center. I counted 15 functioning offices of financial institutions on 23rd Street. Two other offices were vacant. One was a mortgage broker out west an apparent victim of the current housing market. A sign on the building at Naismith announces that the KU Credit Union is coming soon. Hasn’t that been there a long time? Surprisingly 6 of these 15 (all east of Iowa) are businesses that make payday loans among other things. The cost of a payday loans is equivalent to an annual interest rate of 391.07%. That figure comes via the rates and returns page at www.checkngo.com and is pretty standard for the industry. It amazes me that there is enough business to keep all of these companies going. I do know about not making enough money to cover expenses and running short at the end of the month. I have been there and done that. The surprise is the number of people in Lawrence who are apparently in this difficult situation. If there weren’t enough people using these places, there wouldn’t be 6 of them on the same street.There is a bit of competition among these folks. I saw a women standing near the curb out front of one of these offices with a sign saying ‘First Loan Free.” What a deal. This sign acknowledges that for many people there is a need for more than one of these loans. It kind of seems like an invitation to get hooked.Paying $15 to borrow $100 for two weeks may seem reasonable when one is desperate. However, it is not only a high rate of interest but doing this more than once really adds up. Imagine if you only received 85% of your pay each month? Have your paycheck direct deposited in my bank account and I will give you back $85 for every $100 deposited. I like that deal.Another company offers a $25 refund if you refer a friend. Friends don’t let friends borrow at these rates. I know. If I had a friend who was desperate and I didn’t have the money either, I would probably refer a friend. When I was young and had little money I occasionally overdrew my checking account at the end of the month. The check that I wrote got to the bank before my paycheck did. That was another era. My bank was a small local business where I knew people and they would call and I would assure them that my paycheck would get there in a day or two. I was embarrassed but there was no hassle and no fees. That would never happen today. I just checked US Bank (with 2 outlets on 23rd Street) overdraft fees. They charge $8.00 per day for an overdraft. That makes $15 per hundred sound like a good deal. Perhaps the move away from locally owned banks is part of the problem.These payday loan companies seem to exploit people in desperate financial circumstances. But what is a single mom with 2 kids to do when it gets to the end of the month and there is little food in the house?Before you or a friend sign up for a payday loan, call Housing and Credit Counseling (749-4224). They are our local (Lawrence and Topeka) non-profit that can help you reduce and eventually eliminate your need for these high cost loans.If anyone wants to start a non-profit that would make these kinds of loans at low cost, I will be one of the first to donate a little capital to get started. The Journal World article on pawn shops cited an interest rate of 120% per year. That is less than a third of the payday loan outfits and should be enough to keep a low cost non-profit in business.

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Disproportionality – Community Action Required.

Disproportionality - now there is a word for you. Governor Sebelius used it in a press release November 25. Maybe she is pulling for that Department of Education job in the Obama administration. Actually it is a word for a very real problem. The proportion of African-American children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems in Kansas do not reflect their proportion in the state’s population. The Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) reports that while 6% of the Kansas population identifies themselves as African-American, 28% of those in the custody of the Juvenile Justice Authority and 21% of those in SRS custody are African-American (data is from the 2008 state fiscal year, http://www.srskansas.org/CFS/datareports09.html). That is disproportionality.The Governor’s press release announced that the Human Services Subcabinet would address this problem and ‘assure racial and ethnic equity is a standard outcome across all Kansas child welfare and juvenile justice programs.’ This is worthy goal.This disproportionality problem has been around for as long as African-American’s were eligible for child welfare services. It is easy to forget that there was a time that African-American families were not eligible for these services. As child welfare services have evolved over the years it has increasingly become a response to child abuse and neglect for all families.If African-American children were more often victims of abuse, there might not be a problem. However, a government study of the incidence of child abuse has found that African-American children are not disproportionaly victims of abuse (http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/statistics/nis.cfm). There have three of these studies with the fourth currently underway. While I know more about child welfare than juvenile justice, I have been told that all youth break laws at about the same rate so disproportionality seems to apply to that system as well.So how did we get here? Efforts to address this problem suggest that we think about this in terms of decision points. A person in a community starts the process by deciding to call the child abuse and neglect hotline. The person answering the phone makes a decision to take the report and have it investigated. Someone decides to file a petition in juvenile court. It gets very complicated but you get the picture. The idea is that disproportionality can occur at any one of the decision points while not being present at another. The result is a larger proportion of children of a particular racial or ethnic group being in state custody. For example, in community ‘A’ there may be a relatively larger proportion of court petitions filed that ask that an African-American child be found to be a Children in Need of Care (CINC). Depending on the judges’ decision a larger percentage of African-American children may end up in SRS custody. In this same community there may be no disporportionality at other decision points.A key to diagnosing the problem is to look at every community and decision point separately. You cannot assume that all communities or decision points are the same.SRS did take their preliminary analysis a step further. They noted that statewide in SFY08, African American/ Black children entered foster care at a rate 3 times their presence in the general population. So at least part for the problem is that set of decision points that lead to placement in foster care. There is still a need to examine the decisions that lead to children exiting the system such as adoption or return home.SRS also identified those counties with high or extreme rates of disproportionality. Interestingly our neighbors Johnson and Shawnee counties are identified as showing extreme disproportionality for both 2007 and 2008. Fortunately Douglas County does not show up on the list. Once the specific decisions that lead to the problem are identified, strategies to bring balance back to the system can be developed. That topic is beyond the scope of this post. I wish the Health and Human Services Subcabinet well but they can’t fix the problem by themselves. Each community needs to work with SRS to get the data for each decision point and conduct their own analysis of the problem.

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Decarbonize and the WSJ

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is hardly a mouthpiece for the left or even the center for that matter. I doubt that Rachel Maddow ever reads it although she may have ‘her people’ do that so she has material.The Monday (11/24) issue of the WSJ had a report from the ‘CEO Council.’ This is a group of business leaders that were convened by the Journal to come up with priorities for the new administration. One of the four topics was energy & the environment. The top two recommendations regarding energy & the environment are:1.Comprehensive energy and environment policy.Put national legislation in place that starts us on the road to decarbonize our economy and to create the most energy-efficient economy in the world. Level with the American people that ensuring an adequate and diverse energy supply in a low-carbon world will not be cheap or easy. But make the case that the transition must be transparent and fair to all Americans, and that linking the economy, the environment and energy policy bolsters security for all three. 2.Decarbonize the power sector.Launch a coordinated strategy to curb emissions from electricity production that recognizes the need for a variety of energy sources. To facilitate renewable energy, allow the use of federal eminent domain to site transmission lines, and increase federal spending to improve energy-storage technology. To allow the continued use of coal, promote carbon capture and sequestration technology by boosting federal R&D spending and by streamlining procedures for the licensing and siting of facilities to store the carbon dioxide underground. To expand the use of nuclear energy, resolve storage issues. To promote all these technologies, create a cap-and trade system for carbon emissions.There is enough in these two recommendations to keep a group of environmentalists and their opponents going for months. If Jimmy Carter read this, I imagine his easy smile broadened considerably. After all during his unpopular time in the White House his policies regarding energy conservation and new technology were accompanied by a substantial reduction in oil imports and carbon emissions.Decarbonize is featured in both of the CEO Council’s recommendation. Don’t you just love that word? Bill Gates does not include it in my automatic dictionary. But decarbonize may just be the verb of this new century.Governor Bill Ritter Jr. has a plan to reduce Colorado’s emissions of greenhouse gases by 25% by 2020. That would be to decarbonize. This includes a shared commitment with other states and nations to even deeper emissions cuts by 2050 (http://www.colorado.gov/energy/in/uploaded_pdf/ColoradoClimateActionPlan_001.pdf). I guess Governor Ritter doesn’t read the Kansas newspapers. Our business leaders at Sunflower Electric filed a lawsuit for the right to carbonize our environment to the tune of 11 million tons annually and sell most of the electricity to Governor Ritter’s constituents. Since the Sunflower lawsuit is pending, perhaps we should offer a settlement. Kansas will no longer deny permits for the Sunflower coal powered electric generation plants but simply delay approval until the existence of new carbon sequestration technology that demonstrates a lack of environment damage. Better yet Colorado could pay Kansas legal fees in the Sunflower lawsuit to demonstrate Governor Ritter’s shared commitment to cut emissions.

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Colorado exports carbon emissions to Kansas

The Denver Post reported that state regulators approved Xcel Energy's plan to meet energy demands through 2015 (denverpost.com 9/19/2008). This plan includes closing two coal-fired power plants and replacing one with a natural gas plant. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission stated that this advances Governor Bill Ritter's goal of reducing carbon emissions while ensuring an adequate supply of energy at the lowest prices possible.The Lawrence Journal World just two days ago reported that Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Associated is still interested in building the two coal-burning plants in southwest Kansas with 85% of the electricity going to Colorado and Texas.Do I have it right that Colorado reduces its carbon emissions at our expense?Kansas has a long history of conflict with Colorado over water. Now we can add carbon. Don't misunderstand me I love Colorado. Last July I spent two weeks in the mountains and loved it. It is often difficult for states to look beyond their borders. The world doesn't gain a thing if Colorado closes two coal fired plants and we open two. This is why federal legislation is needed.

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Congress and President Bush Bailout Kansas Grandparent Caregivers

In response to the bleak economy and falling state revenues this week Governor Sebelius once again asked state agencies to cut their budgets. The current request is for 3% cuts. Previous requests were for a 2% cut and a worst case scenario of 5%. We don't seem to be at the 5% level yet.One of the programs that the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) has identified as taking a cut is Grandparents as Caregivers. This program provides financial support to low income grandparents who assume responsibility for taking care of their grandchildren who have been in state custody. SRS proposes to shift funding for this program from state funds to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families federal block grant. The program would not die but these grandparents would receive an average of $136 per child per month rather than the previous $200 (limited to a maximum of $600). $136 doesn't go very far these days.Grandparents taking care of their grandchildren is now widely recognized as a safe, nurturing and culturally sensitive alternative to foster care. Paying for it is another matter. The Silver Haired Legislature was instrumental in getting the Kansas legislature to create the Grandparents as Caregivers program and financing it with state funds. Interestingly the federal government helps states finance foster care and adoption but they have not helped states subsidize relatives assuming care of children who have been in foster care. Federal support for subsidized adoption has been around for years. This fiscal year they are helping out Kansas families to the tune of over $13 million to support an average 6,835 children per month. This provides adoptive parents a monthly average of $337 per child (a lot more than $136). For those of you doing the arithmetic state funds make up the $14 million difference.Congress and President Bush in the depths of their approval ratings have come to the rescue. While you were paying attention to the protracted election battle they got together and passed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. President Bush signed this into law in early October. Among the provisions of this act is federal support for kinship guardianship. To over simplify, this provides federal funds to support relatives, including grandparents, who assume guardianship of a child who has been in foster care. So this has the potential of bailing out the state Grandparents as Caregivers program as well as the SRS Permanent Custodianship program. Haven't heard of the Permanent Custodianship program? This is another way for children in state custody to obtain a safe permanent home. When return home or adoption is not an option for a child in foster care it is possible for someone else to obtain custody of the child and receive financial assistance. Frequently this is a relative such as a grandparent or aunt or uncle. This is primarily funded with state funds. So in this time of bleak economic news there is reason to be hopeful that Kansas will take advantage of this new federal law to bring the Grandparents as Caregivers and Permanent Custodianship programs together to provide a safe family for hundreds of Kansas foster care children for which return home or adoption is not an option. Currently about 25% of Kansas foster children are placed with relatives. This is a tremendous opportunity for these children.

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