INDIANAPOLIS — A high number of youth in foster care is leading parents to drop out of the system and has created a waiting list this year of about 530 foster children seeking approval for child care funds, a consultant said Monday.
Although the foster care troubles were not directly part of the initial study topics, they were added by Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson.
“I think they play a key part in the overall DCS system and the child protective care system. I do not think we’re adequately supporting them,” Lanane said.
On Monday, the Legislative Council reviewed a consultant’s analysis of DCS, just a few days before meetings begin to develop a Foster Parents Bill of Rights.
In April Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law a bill requiring DCS to enact a bill of rights. The law requires DCS to form a working group of foster parents, child-placing agencies and other individuals and organizations with expertise in foster care services.
The act became effective Sunday.
“A foster parents’ bill of rights I think will open up the gap of communication that has been between DCS and foster parents for so long,” Kristi Cundiff, CEO of the Indiana Foster and Adoptive Parents Resource and Advocacy Group, said.
“I think it will give foster parents what their expectation level is from DCS. Foster parents are the heart and soul of DCS,” Cundiff said.
Of Indiana’s surrounding states, foster parent bill of rights are set in Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan.
During the recent legislative session, she testified in favor of the bill. The organization has about 8,000 members.
On Monday, the Legislative Council assigned the Interim Committee on the Judiciary and the Courts to study DCS, notably the state definitions of “child abuse of neglect and “custodian;” the appropriate time period for DCS to assess cases; laws governing personal liability of family case managers, and the age at which older youths in foster care can receive adult services.
The report was prepared by the Alabama-based Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group (CWG). It found that Indiana had a rate of 8 children per 1,000 in out-of-home care compared to national rate of 3.6 per 1,000.
“The number of children in care increased somewhat during the period from 2005 to 2010 and remained fairly stable in 2011 and 2012, before starting a much more dramatic upward trend in 2014,” the report states.
By the end of September 2017, the number of children in out-of-home care in Indiana had increased 89.4 percent over September 2005. In 2017, 12,779 children were removed from their families. The chief reason, at 77 percent, was neglect, followed by parental drug abuse at 55 percent. Parental incarceration and housing difficulties were both at 14 percent.
Among its 20 recommendations, the CWG report urged DCS to extend the age to 23 in which a youth can receive DCS services. Services currently end at 18.
Foster parents do not receive payments for daycare or childcare; they are expected to use their per diem to cover those costs, the report noted.
Foster parents told CWG that was a disincentive for recruitment and retention as well as a financial challenge.
The per diem for foster parents starts at $20.53 for ages up to 4 and $22.29 for youth 5 to 13. Indiana currently has a bill of rights for children in foster care but not for those who serve as foster parents.
As the final report was presented mid-June, Holcomb announced an increase of $25 million in the DCS budget to improve salaries and training.
That brings to more than $400 million that the legislature has added for DCS this year, said Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage.
“Getting the money straight with DCS has got be a priority,” Tallian said.
“They came in the last budget and gave us numbers and we gave them those numbers. Since then we have put in an additional $400 million in transfers from various other pots of money,” Tallian said.