Karen Anderson loves children, even those from other parents.
For the past 25 years, the Anderson family has given birth to three children, adopted a son and cared for more than 160 foster children who spent days or years with them.
The 49-year-old mother sees fostering children as a mission. She and adoptive parents statewide, however, have begun to worry about a proposal from Gov. Matt Blunt that would reduce state subsidies for adoptions.
“These cuts are hurting those who can’t speak for themselves,” Anderson said.
Blunt’s proposed budget for fiscal 2006 would reduce adoption subsidies by $12.5 million, more than one-fifth of the $60 million budgeted for 2005. Along with that, Senate Bill 539, which is being perfected by the state Senate, would establish a “means test” for recipients of Medicaid that would make adoption families with incomes that are at least 200 percent of the state poverty level ineligible for state support. That would include families that have adopted foster children and some that have adopted children with medical needs from private agencies.
In Missouri, 4,250 adoption families are facing the loss of subsidies, said Deb Hendricks, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Social Services.
“Although the state does need to balance the budget, it’s not ethical to cut from the children who have already suffered a lot,” Anderson said, referring primarily to foster children who are adopted. “Those children who have been neglected and abused deserve a permanent family.”
As it stands, Missouri covers attorneys’ fees, administrative payments and day-care services for families that adopt children through the Missouri Division of Family Services’ foster-care program. It also sends monthly stipends to these families.
The same was true in Nebraska, where the Anderson family almost two decades ago took in Daniel, who was then an infant with Down syndrome, as a foster child. After the Andersons moved here in 1985 and adopted Daniel two years later, the family received an intrastate compact with a stipend from Nebraska and other assistance from Missouri until Daniel turned 19.
“Without the support, we wouldn’t have committed to adoption at that time,” Anderson said, “because we didn’t know what the future would hold for him.”
In Missouri, 15,000 families receive financial support for adoption, including 300 in Boone County.
Susan Jones, an adoption specialist with the Children’s Division of the Missouri Division of Family Services in Boone County, said that subsidies make up only a small part of the money needed to raise a child, especially one with behavioral problems or one who has long been abused or neglected. Almost all children adopted from the Children’s Division have suffered those problems to some degree.
Even so, Jones said, Missouri’s aid to adopted foster children is reasonable. An adoptive parent herself, Jones said many other states distribute fixed amounts of money, but Missouri offers day care and other services for the families. A family with an adopted child who has medical and behavioral needs can receive $225 to $650 a month.
“They might pay $400 for a child while we pay only $275, but if you add in day care and all the services, it will be a big chunk of money,” Jones said.
In Boone County, the majority of adoptions take place in foster families where parents were touched by the children’s experiences, Jones said.
“They care for the children, and they want to give them permanent homes,” Jones said.
That’s why Anderson said she is so upset by the proposed cuts.
“When parents signed contracts with the state, they were making lifetime commitments to the children,” said Anderson. “They thought the state was behind them when they made their choices. The state is much better off to have those children in permanent homes rather than letting them remain in the foster-care system until they are 18 years old and reach adulthood.”
At the same time, local officials and contracted agencies fear that fewer children would be adopted without subsidies. Now 20 to 30 children are waiting to be adopted in Boone County, said Jones.
Dan Ellis of Ellis & Associates, the sole contracted foster-parent training program in Boone County, said only 15 percent to 20 percent of people who inquire about training to become foster parents in Boone County actually return applications and complete the program. He said it takes an average of two years for a family to decide.
Current adoption subsidies come from both federal and state funding. Federal money will remain intact regardless of any changes at the state level.
The governor’s goal is to cut spending on Medicaid. Blunt spokeswoman Jessica Robinson said Missouri has one of the most generous social welfare programs overall.
“The social welfare program and the state budget have been abused long enough that it can no longer sustain itself,” Robinson said.
The governor is aware that the budget cut is not a perfect solution, but it is “one that will sustain the system to the future” and ensure that “Missouri’s most needy families have access to resources,” Robinson said.