By Hillary Gubler
The parents of Utah’s adopted children with special needs voiced concerns about subsidy cutbacks at a bi-partisan legislative public hearing at the Capitol on June 13.
Concerned parents discussed the crises they have faced since the announcement by the Division of Child and Family Services that adoption subsidies for families who have adopted children from state custody will be eliminated.
In November 1999, the DCFS realized they were going over budget from between $600,000 – $1.2 million with adoption subsidies.
The subsidies, which help families provide therapy for adopted children in Utah, were cut back as part of a plan to try and balance the division’s finances.
Other cutbacks included a hiring freeze, a freeze on the acquisition of new computer equipment and the elimination of 12 administrative positions.
At the meeting, parents of adopted children with special needs said they were informed of the cutbacks through letters. Gov. Mike Leavtitt also addressed the issue at a press conference on June 9.
During the hearing, DCFS representative LeRoy Franke said the DCFS as a whole is disheartened and disillusioned.
“This has had a chilling effect on adoptions in Utah,” Franke said. “Families don’t trust us anymore.”
Franke also said the potential discrepancy in funds was brought to the attention of legislators last year, but requests for assistance were unheeded by the legislature.
“It has taken a crisis to bring this to everyone’s attention,” Franke said.
For the parents of Utah’s adopted children, the crisis is very real.
“When we lost our subsidy, we had to shoulder the bills for our son’s medical bills,” one mother said. “Last year they totaled over $10,000.”
Carol O’Meara’s son had $12,000 in his subsidy in April to help pay for his expensive stays at the Utah Boys’ Ranch.
Due to the subsidy cutbacks the money is completely gone and O’Meara’s teacher salary cannot make up the difference.
“I have lost faith in the DCFS through this process,” she said.
State Office of the Fiscal Analyst representative Thor Nilsen, said part of the overspending problem came from the lack of support for DCFS during the legislative session.
Nilsen said that for fiscal year 2001, Leavitt recommended $1.6 million in new state funding for DCFS, including $293,100 for adoption subsidies.
However, the legislature only appropriated $250,000 in new funds for DCFS, 1/6 the amount recommended by Governor Leavitt.
The problems caused by lack of funds were compounded by an increase in the rate of children in state custody being adopted and poor fiscal management, Nilsen said.
The hearing, called for by Representative Perry Buckner, D-West Jordan/Kearns, gave parents, mental health care providers, fiscal analysts and representatives from the DCFS to voice their concerns about the subsidies crisis.
Buckner said the crisis was brought to his attention several weeks ago by some of his constituents.
He said his goal is to try and find some “short term solutions so that families and children are not sacrificed,” while other legislators look at long term solutions.
“We need to ensure treatment for these abused children,” Buckner said. “Just placing the children in adoptive homes doesn’t solve their problems.”