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Thursday, June 5, 2014 12:01 am

An end to ‘planned abandonment’ of kids

Law would keep troubled kids with their adoptive families

Illinois lawmakers voted to end a practice known as “planned abandonment” of adopted kids, but the state’s poor fiscal condition will likely limit the state’s ability to enact the change.

The Illinois General Assembly approved a bill during the spring legislative session that bans the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services from requiring foster parents or adoptive parents to give up custody of children in order to obtain long-term residential care for the children. Planned abandonment, also known as trading “custody for care,” usually happens when a child needs intensive therapy for a mental disturbance.

In the past decade, more than 600 Illinois families have relinquished custody of their adopted children to obtain treatment for their children’s violent behavior. At least eight families have filed lawsuits against the state, claiming adopted children are entitled to such care through Medicaid under federal law.

“Children heal sooner with full support of their families and communities,” said Toni Hoy, a mother from Ingleside in northern Illinois.

Hoy experienced planned abandonment firsthand with her adopted son, Daniel. The Hoy family adopted Daniel when he was two but had to give up custody of him in 2008 to get the state to pay for long-term treatment. Daniel had become violent around age 10 and had tried several times to harm the Hoys and their other children. After a three-year court battle, the Hoys regained custody of Daniel, now 19. Toni Hoy eventually wrote a book, Second Time Foster Child, detailing the family’s experiences. She praised the legislature’s approval of the bill that would have prevented her family’s ordeal.

 “Our hope is that these brain disorders, even when they cause acts of aggression, can be viewed from a medical perspective without blaming children with brain disorders or their parents,” Hoy said.

House Bill 5598 requires an “intergovernmental agreement” between the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which oversees child safety, and the Illinois Department of Human Services, which deals with child health issues. The agreement requires the two agencies to jointly review cases and work to prevent custody relinquishment, while also requiring families with private health insurance to exhaust their coverage before accessing state funds.

“Hopefully, those who lost custody of their children in exchange for mental health services will be allowed the opportunity to enter the intergovernmental agreement with the goal of appropriate service planning,” Hoy said. “Advocates will be monitoring cases that fail to be served by the new intergovernmental agreement.”

During a legislative hearing on the bill in March, representatives of both agencies opposed the bill, saying it could potentially cost the state millions of dollars and put an extra burden on the agencies themselves. The Department of Human Services filed a fiscal note on the bill saying it would cost DCFS an estimated $94.7 million in just the first year. Over the next three years, DHS said the bill would cumulatively cost the state $379.5 million.

If DHS is correct, the added cost could mean continued tension between the state and families seeking long-term residential care for troubled kids. The budget passed by the legislature in the recently ended spring session contained millions of dollars borrowed from special state funds, which means the money will have to be paid back in future fiscal years. That “self-loan” cost is in addition to the already crushing debt owed to the state employee pension systems and overdue bills from service providers. With the increased financial pressure, it’s unclear where the state would come up with hundreds of millions of dollars for long-term residential care.

DHS and DCFS did not respond to a request for comments in time for publication.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.


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