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Pro-adoption pledge needs cash backing

Gov. Mike Pence used his most recent State of the State address to call for Indiana to become “the most pro-adoption state in America.”

It’s a tall task: Adoptions here declined by 35 percent between 2011 and 2013. The 1,033 adoptions last year were the fewest finalized since 2005.

Why the decline? Look to a class-action lawsuit filed last week alleging the Department of Child Services reneged on its contract to pay adoption subsidies to more than 1,400 families adopting from foster care. According to the lawsuit, the subsidies went unpaid even as DCS returned more than $238 million from its budget to the general fund and ballooning surplus.

Incredibly, the state’s failure to pay the subsidy has cost as much as $235,000 more per child because the foster care maintenance payments DCS is legally obligated to pay are higher than the modest adoption subsidy payments, according to the lawsuit.

“The state’s failure to pay adoption subsidy payment DCS promised to pay in a contract puts children and their caretakers at a considerable disadvantage,” said Lynn Toops of Cohen & Malad LLP, one of the law firms representing the class-action plaintiffs. “Our lawsuit aims to make DCS follow through with its promises to these children and families.”

The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles admitted it overcharged for driver’s licenses by millions of dollars after the same Indianapolis firm filed a class-action suit last year.

Lead plaintiff in the DCS suit is Debra Moss, a LaPorte grandmother and cancer survivor who adopted her three young grandchildren from foster care and signed a State Adoption Subsidy Agreement noting that “if funding becomes available at a later period in time,” the adoptive parents would be notified of when payment would begin.

DCS was in breach of contract because the money was available and not paid to adoptive families, the lawsuit alleges. The plaintiffs seek restitution for the amount owed by DCS, as well as damages.

Jackie Townsend, a Fort Wayne woman who adopted 5-year-old Antoinette, told The Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly in April that she had waited five years for the promised state adoption subsidy.

“If there was funding, I definitely think more people would adopt,” she said.

Brittney Collins, Child and Family Program director for the Fort Wayne-based Phoenix Institute, agrees.

“We see a lot of failed adoptions come back into the (foster) system,” she said, noting that adoptive parents often find they can’t meet the expenses involved, particularly if the child is not Medicaid-eligible.

“When you are raising a child, the future is very unpredictable,” Collins said. “All of these kids have had traumatic experiences, because the disruption they’ve seen – in itself – is traumatic.”

“Probably one of the biggest barriers to adoption is the cost,” she said. “Especially when you have children with additional needs and handicaps, or behavioral issues.”

Foster parents who start out offering interim care often develop a bond that leads them to make the arrangement permanent, Collins said.

For those who do, the “most pro-adoption state in America” can’t be the only state that fails to pay an adoption subsidy, as is the case here. Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, the state has work to do to live up to the governor’s call. Less attention to building a surplus and more on encouraging adoption must begin immediately.