January 19, 2011 at 1:40pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Today’s Journal Star editorial on the support needed by Nebraska’s foster parents makes several good points. Foster parents are under trained, under paid, under supported, and over worked. That’s not necessarily new. What is new is that the problem is getting significantly worse, not better, under Nebraska’s so-called “child welfare reform”, now with the hilariously inaccurate moniker “Families Matter”. Even Steve Urkel couldn’t muck up child welfare reform this badly.

The editorial mentions that clothing vouchers are no longer provided. That’s not entirely true; foster parents can still theoretically get clothing vouchers for the children in their care, though that may vary by service provider. Under KVC getting a clothing voucher is easy. Simply ask for one immediately upon placement of children in your home. Then wait seven months while your service coordinator and others involved with your case tell you things like “I’ve filed the paperwork”, “it’s on the way”, and “You haven’t received it yet?! I’ll get right on it!”. Finally, mention the absence of a clothing voucher in each of your reports to the court and, if your judge is a bit feisty (as ours is), he’ll finally issue a formal order for the State to provide a voucher “immediately”. It’s that simple!

That has been our approach, anyway. I’m pretty sure the judge wants to slap a few people from HHS and KVC, but issuing a court order wasn’t a bad alternative. The order was issued yesterday. In my fantasy the State and KVC will continue to fail to get us the clothing voucher so at our next hearing the judge will issue a warrant for the arrest of HHS CEO Kerry Winterer for contempt. I would go right up and kiss the judge on the lips. It’ll never happen that way, of course, but it’s a wonderful fantasy.

How disgusting is it that it takes (at least) a court order to get funds to clothe foster children? Providing fewer funds to directly support foster children is “reform”? Please.

Speaking of fewer funds, note that the average monthly foster care reimbursement rate dropped from $725 to $600 since 2008. But don’t think that most foster parents are actually receiving $600 per child. That number is an average. It is skewed by kids with especially high needs, a significant chunk of whom live in group homes and other special situations. The rate for “normal” kids—please forgive my use of that adjective—is far lower. Think $350 per month for 24 hour-a-day care, feeding, clothing, and entertainment. Day care providers are reimbursed at $25 per day; foster parents get $11.

Lest you think this is all about money, let’s look at the support angle. KVC recently made the decision to mix up the social workers that transport children to and supervise visits with their parents. This was done against the pleas of those social workers, foster parents, and parents. To KVC this move represented improved efficiency. To everybody else it ripped away a stable, consistent adult influence in the children’s lives and replaced it with a stranger. Because that’s what these kids need, more shake-up in their lives.

What if a child in your home has special needs? Good luck getting support for that. First you have to convince KVC (or your service provider) that the child actually does have special needs. That in itself is a huge battle. Certain criteria must be met, and both the foster parents and KVC must agree on a child’s “ranking” within those criteria. Because of the way the funding is set up, KVC’s interest is in not providing extra services. Thus, a relationship that should be cooperative turns adversarial.

In our specific case we were lucky. Our kids came into our home with existing services. It was significantly easier continuing services than it would have been to start them anew. Nevertheless, we’ve had to fight for every modification. The Missus and I have spent a tremendous amount of energy fighting for our support services. We have won nearly every battle so far—with a lot of sweat and many tears—but every indication is that’s the exception, not the rule. We have been lucky.

(I have to be vague about the sorts of “services” I mean and the fights we fought. There are some privacy issues involved here.)

Need a form signed by a child’s legal guardian? We’re on the 19th day of the switchover to KVC being in charge and we still don’t know who is supposed to sign those papers. KVC says it’s not them; HHS says, without actually answering the question, to talk to KVC. The run-around on such a critical matter is astonishing. It’s not such a difficult question, is it?

In other words, the LJS editorial has just scratched the surface. But at least they’re scratching, as are a few State Senators. Good on ‘em.

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CS January 19, 2011 at 7:03pm

Good on you, Mr. Wilson. What you are doing, as thankless as it is, probably means more to your charges then you will ever know-even if they never say it. Waking up in a familiar environment, with some breakfast, a routine, and clean socks is an amazing stress reliever. Keep at it.  I moved out on my own when I was 16 because of many different family issues-it SUCKED. The stress involved in maintaining myself and keeping my grades up to try to go to college was a constant cold dread in my stomach, for days at a time. I wasn’t 5 or 7 or 10 years old, though. No kid should have to have that kind of stress.

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