TERRE HAUTE —
Budget savings seem short-sighted when the long-term development of children is at stake, Democrat leaders argue.
Sen. Vi Simpson (D-Ellettsville), candidate for lieutenant governor, stopped in Terre Haute on Wednesday campaigning on behalf of herself and running mate, John Gregg. Standing in front of Hulman Plaza on North Eighth Street, in which operates the Indiana Department of Child Services, she explained their plans to restore numerous programs eliminated in recent budget battles.
“The department of child services has had a lot of problems over the years,” she said, outlining their “Hoosier Handshake” plan as it pertains to children’s programs.
Since 2006, nearly $300 million appropriated to the DCS has reverted back to the general fund due to the administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ budget cuts, she said, adding that last year alone, $100 million went unspent.
According to Simpson, the appropriations made by the legislature represent the will of the people, and spending money on needy children should be a higher priority than making one’s budgets appear solid. Many of the programs use to be funded through the counties’ property tax dollars, but when the state took over collection of those funds, they began making significant cuts. Down the road, those cuts could come back to haunt us, she pointed out.
“It’s all about prevention,” she said, explaining that without these systems in place, many of the children in question will wind up in the court system and cost more money in the future. “We use to do these things. We’re talking about reinstating them.”
High on the list of priorities for Gregg and Simpson is the launch of a statewide adoption promotion. In addition to a public relations drive supporting adoption, the team hopes to reinstate the subsidy offered for adopting those with special needs. The cost of that subsidy, Simpson pointed out, is less then the stipend given foster parents and would thus save taxpayers money while promoting a permanent home environment. The loss of that subsidy has been telling, and finalized adoptions are down 30 percent as a result, she said.
“The subsidy really makes a difference for these families,” she said, explaining that in the case of special needs children in particular, health care is a major factor.
Simpson said their administration also would reinstate mental health services designed to help keep children in their homes as opposed to dispatching them to foster care. Cuts in those programs, she said, has left some at-risk children in dangerous situations unsupervised, while others are removed perhaps without need.
A third point in the plan is the establishment of an Office of the Child Advocate. This office would be responsible for making ongoing evaluations of the child welfare system and provide recommendations to elected officials. Trying to keep children in their homes doesn’t work without case workers to investigate and monitor the situation, she said. This position would ensure those actions are occurring.
“If kids are falling through the cracks, then we’re failing them,” she said.
Sen. Tim Skinner (D-Terre Haute), referenced his career as a public school teacher as he said the problem of at-risk youth needs to be addressed.
“I’m glad the issue is coming to the forefront,” he said.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.