Families hopeful subsidy resumption will boost Hoosier adoptions

(WISH Photo/Ron Nakasone)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) More than 1,500 adoptive Hoosier families will receive subsidies this year for the first time since 2009, state officials announced Wednesday. But many of those families are still waiting to see how much they’ll get, and when.

The move, announced late Tuesday, follows the filing of a lawsuit claiming the state failed to deliver on promised adoption subsidy payments to families with special needs children since 2009.

Single mother Cindy Cleary is one of them.

She adopted her five-year-old daughter in 2009, when she was just seven weeks old.

“And, while my adoption was being processed, that’s when they had stopped the subsidy,” Cleary said. “It wasn’t as big of a deal at the time, because my husband was still here and we had two incomes. Now, we just have mine. So, it was frustrating. But at the same time, I wanted this child. Money’s not the object at all. But, you have to have it, unfortunately, to raise children today.”

It’s a point Cleary knows now better than ever.

Six months ago, she took in Megan as a special needs foster child. The six-year-old had been mentally and physically abused and neglected, and faces an uphill developmental battle.

Cleary has been on the Indiana Department of Child Services waiting list ever since, hoping to adopt Megan and provide her a forever home.

Foster funding has helped provide for Megan’s medical and physical care. But, Cleary knows it’s money that could disappear if Megan is granted adoption rights.

“There are a lot of hidden costs,” Cleary said. “Traveling back and forth, hospital visits, therapy visits, it takes a lot of wear and tear on vehicles. So, there is maintenance on vehicles. We have to go to Riley [Children’s Hospital] once a month. She has made remarkable progress, but these costs add up.”

Hearing that Megan will likely be eligible for some type of state subsidy funding brought a big smile to Cleary’s face.

“It’s a wonderful development,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to fight a system that we’re trying to help.”

It’s a feeling shared by Jeremy Clay.

The walls of his near north side home tell the unique story of a family that more than tripled overnight.

“We were having difficulty having our own children,” Clay said. “And, we thought about adopting a baby. But, we figured out that was a long road. So, we thought about adopting a sibling group, and somehow we landed with five of them!”

The smiling faces in the family photos prove the Clays made the right decision, he added.

“I can’t imagine my life without them,” Clay said. “They’re wonderful. We’ve had a great time together. It’s been three years, and they’re a part of our family.”

But, the sudden addition of five young sisters between the ages of 7 and 11—including two sets of twins–also brought a unique set of challenges.

“They were all considered special needs originally,” Clay said. “With adopted children, they can come with some additional baggage or problems that need to be addressed through therapy or time. And, on top of that, we just didn’t have all the stuff we would have accumulated over time. They were 4, 6, and 8 when they came here. So, that was 4, 6, and 8 years that we would have accumulated stuff. They really came with nothing—no toys, bikes, clothes or anything like that that we would have been able to pass down.”

Since then, costs have only risen, including health care costs for Clay’s wife, who is confined to a wheelchair.

“We’re stretching everything,” Clay said. “Three of them need orthodontics. One of them could continue needing counseling. That’s expensive. All expensive stuff.”

Most adoptive families qualify for federal tax credits, and some were able to save money from foster care payments provided prior to adoption.

Now, subsidies will be issued to supplement that.

But, Clay still doesn’t know if he’ll qualify.

“The amount for each child is not a set number, but will be negotiated case by case,” said Department of Child Services Communications Director James Wide in an email to I-Team 8. “To fund the [state adoption subsidy] program for FY2015 is an estimated $10 million.”

That’s a small sliver of the money a recent lawsuit claims the state failed to deliver to adoptive families since 2009.

More than 1,400 families represented in the lawsuit claim the agency promised them payments of between $18.80 and $28.00 per day for each special needs child they adopted. The families claim they have not been paid any form of subsidy since 2009, despite the fact that DCS “returned over $238 million to the State of Indiana in excess funds that were available for DCS to pay the adoption subsidy.”

And, despite the resumption of subsidy payments, I-Team 8 has learned DCS has no plans to issue retroactive pay prior to July 1, 2014.

That likely means only one of Cindy Cleary’s two daughters will be eligible for funding.

And, while she’s grateful for the unexpected revenue, it’s put her dream of adopting again on hold.

“With the subsidies, I would consider adopting another child very soon. Without them, no. Because, you don’t want to put your other children in jeopardy because you’re taking on another child. I just can’t afford it,” she said.

Pausing to kiss her daughter, Cleary smiled.

“This may be the difference between some children being adopted, and some children not,” she continued. “It’s very frustrating. Because, I don’t think the system should be fighting against people trying to help give a child in need a better life.”

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