- Associated Press - Sunday, February 9, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Debbie Moss can easily recite the unexpected conversation with a judge that led to her adopting her three grandsons from Mishawaka.

One of the LaPorte woman’s daughters, the mother of the boys, had lost parental rights because of abuse she had not deflected from them. Moss had acted as a foster parent to the boys, but on this day, another of Moss’s daughters was prepared to officially adopt them.

But in his courtroom in South Bend, Judge Peter Nemeth scuttled caseworkers’ arrangements after learning the would-be adoptive mother would be placing the children in child care during the day. Was there any other relative in court who could take them instead, he asked.

He zeroed in on Moss, she recalls now, in his notoriously direct manner.

Who was she? And since she had been fostering them, could she raise them?

Moss told the judge about her ongoing health issues and that she subsists on disability payments because of her cancer in remission.

Nemeth, she says, pointed out that the state would help support the children, as former wards of the state.

“Get me a letter from your oncologist that your cancer is in remission,” Nemeth told her, “and the children are going home with you.”

So Moss left the Juvenile Justice Center and showed up at her oncologist’s office across town. After telling his staff why she was there, the doctor came over and asked her, “What are you doing? It’ll be too much stress on you.”

“I said, ‘It’ll be too much stress on me if I don’t take them,’” Moss recalls telling her doctor, who wrote a letter for the judge, saying he was doing so “under protest.”

Moss officially adopted her three grandchildren — now 4, 5 and 7 — on July 13, 2012.

The Department of Child Services paid for an adoption attorney to negotiate a subsidy rate, Moss tells the South Bend Tribune (https://bit.ly/1nPd5YN ), starting with a measly 50 cents a day.

As a foster parent, she had been reimbursed $25 a day per child. They negotiated $18.88 a day. The attorneys drew up paperwork that included the agreed-upon amount, and everyone signed it.

Then Moss learned she was placed on a waiting list of other adoptive parents who are told they qualify for state adoption subsidies but won’t actually receive them.

Federal money exists for some adoptive parents meeting certain restrictive criteria, which are gradually being phased out. President Barack Obama’s administration has so far kept enough money in the federal budget to allow all newly adopted children to receive federal subsidies by 2018.

Those who are ineligible for federal money are meant to receive state subsidies. All but Indiana reportedly offer them.

But former DCS Director James Payne, whose oft-cited mantra was “People should adopt for love, not money,” removed adoption subsidy money from the budget as of January 2009 while at the same time returning to state coffers millions of unspent dollars from the DCS budget, three years in a row.

“It sounds really greedy, doesn’t it, when I ask for money to help raising my own grandchildren?” Moss asks. But she notes that she has to rely on charity from others to meet the basic needs of the children, and she has trouble paying bills.

The 57-year-old refers to her list of food pantries, which she visits regularly. She tries to take in odd jobs of sewing or doing laundry.

In January 2012, her disability payments increased $6 a month, which then rendered her family ineligible for food stamps. Her appeals to be reinstated have been repeatedly denied.

“I want to see them grow into the fine young men I know they can be,” Moss says. “But I don’t get it. How can you leave that out of a budget?”

As of July 2013, 1,400 families were on Indiana’s “waiting list,” according to DCS spokesman James Wide.

Adoptive parents on the list are eligible for some services for the children, such as Medicaid, and are given one-time payments of $1,500 per child. Those one-time payments can cover court costs or attorney fees. (Asked about the one-time payments, Moss said she had not received such a thing, but she noted the attorney bill DCS paid on her behalf was exactly $4,500.)

State Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, has introduced a bill for each of the last five years that would restore the adoption subsidy to the state budget.

Despite the fact that Gov. Mike Pence has recently proclaimed that promoting adoption is a priority for him, Broden is not particularly optimistic his push will succeed this year, either.

The General Assembly is meeting now in a short session, but Broden’s bill has not received a hearing, and it’s not a year in which legislators are tackling a budget. Broden notes, however, that other bills dealing with budgetary issues are being heard this session.

The senator has high hopes in a House bill, 1222, written by Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Warsaw. It proposes establishing a tax credit for adoptive parents and creating an interim committee on adoption, which would study the state’s policies and report back to the governor and to DCS.

If that bill lives, Broden says, that will give him the chance to propose an amendment that would reinstate the adoption subsidy to those on the waiting list beginning in July.

The senator points out the state’s current fiscal cushion of $1.5 billion to $2 billion.

“I still think there’s an information gap on the nature of this problem,” Broden says. “I know Judge (Mary Beth) Bonaventura (the new DCS director) understands the problem.”

Wide says there’s a lot of discussion of the issue in DCS hallways these days. Told of Moss‘ story, he says, “I can’t disagree with that parent at all.”

Broden’s sentiments are stronger.

“It just really galls me that you sign these contracts and it looks so official and then you’re told you’re on this list,” he says. “I find it very appalling.”


Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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