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A needed boost for adoptions

Commendably, Gov. Mike Pence wants a commission to study the issue and is asking the General Assembly to approve a tax credit to help families defray the considerable costs of the adoption process. The goal, he said, is to make Indiana “a pro-adoption state.”

The governor and legislature don’t need a commission if they’re looking for another easy way to advance that goal. They just have to get behind Sen. John Broden’s proposal to reinstate state adoption subsidies for families that have the need for them.

Broden, D-South Bend, is an attorney whose practice includes adoption law. On this subject, he has been a lonely voice in a legislative wilderness, filing and refiling a bill to bring Indiana in line with what’s done for adoptive families in 49 other states.

Yes, that’s right. Indiana is the only state that doesn’t have a provision to offer subsidies to families adopting children out of foster care, according to Broden. Even in this era of budget cutting, states run by Republicans, states run by Democrats and states where both parties share power have decided to keep funding adoption subsidies.

“There’s a reason why there is bipartisan support for these programs,” Broden said recently. “These kids need it. There’s an incredibly strong likelihood that they’re going to confront challenges that other kids may not.”

The national system that’s been devised to help families adopt high-risk kids is complex, as is the explanation for why Indiana is out of step with the rest of the country.

Just a few years ago, local judges determined whether adoptive families qualified for subsidies, and the money was paid by individual counties.

In 2008, as part of the rationale for increasing the sales tax, the county subsidies were eliminated and the program was to be transferred to the state.

Complex criteria qualify about half of special-needs-adoption families for a federal subsidy. Others are now put on a list for state subsidies.

That list of families has been growing. In July, there were 1,400. Each child gets Medicaid; each family has been sent a document telling them they have qualified for the subsidy program.

But none of them receives the state subsidy.

Even when the state’s Department of Child Services was turning money back in to the state treasury, there was supposedly no money for the subsidy program.

Some of the children, traditionally called “hard to place,” have chronic illnesses, are born with drugs in their systems or have been exposed to meth. Some have been sexually, physically and emotionally abused.

“These are children that have been through trauma,” says Cathleen Graham, executive director of the nonprofit IARCCA…An Association of Children & Family Services. And, she says, Medicaid simply doesn’t cover all the treatment and counseling expenses they require.

According to the Legislative Services Agency, the bill Broden intends to introduce again next month could cost as much as $38 million in 2014.

But consider: It costs the state even more to provide for foster care. Children adopted into permanent homes have a far better chance of overcoming the challenges that put them under state care to begin with.

Beginning in 2017, the current classification system goes away: The federal government will assume costs for all adoption-family subsidies. Those families who are currently on the list, though, will not be grandfathered in. The only way to help them is to fund their subsidies through the state.