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2013 Legislative Session
Long-term, what we really need to do is invest more money in prevention and front-end services, to keep kids out of the system and keep families together. I just don’t believe we spend enough on that side. The reason that most people explain is, “We just don’t have enough money to spend.” So what I want to do is start incenting our community based care organizations to spend more money, and one of the ways we’re going to do that is with some performance-based spending.
That’s really a budget priority, about $6 million. My expectation is that’d go up every year. So this year is really the beta.
Q: You’re also working on revamping the independent living program [for youth aging out of foster care].
WILKINS: There have been many attempts at this. This year we really buckled down, established a new advisory committee to look at the issue. And I think we have a very good solution that will not increase the cost at all, in terms of the overall cost of the independent living program, and should improve performance.
Sen. [Nancy] Detert, [R-Venice], who was the original author of the independent living program well over a decade ago, is sponsoring the bill to make these changes. We’re going to put increased performance expectations into the programs. And so for the children who qualify for this, in essence, subsidy, to help them get through college or vocational training, they will have performance expectations. But as part of that, we have to put some more infrastructure in place to support them and help them be successful.
And the simple model is, people today do not send their kids off to college and say, “Call me when you’re done.” So we’re not going to do that to our kids, either. We’re going to put some mentoring and support capabilities in place for this program to help ensure that they’re successful and then demand that they ARE successful.
It will cost a couple of million for the program—to manage it, identify the mentors, sign ‘em, track ‘em, all those things. But the offset is: these kids will get through the program faster and the outcomes will be better. We’re going to save the state money because these kids are going to be real contributors to society once they get through the system.
Q: What are you doing to reduce the number of children with disabilities in nursing homes?
WILKINS: We implemented a change this summer through the Children and Youth Cabinet, where we implemented a new memo of understanding between [the Agency for Persons with Disabilities], [the Agency for Health Care Administration], DCF and [the Department of Juvenile Justice] around how we would handle children with disabilities, because in most cases those kids cross all our different organizations. So this memo defined a prioritization scheme that basically puts these kids at the top of our list in terms of making sure that we’re providing the right services and maximizing all the different federal and state program that these kids can benefit from.
We don’t need new legislation, I don’t think, to deal with that. This new program is starting to pay off.
Definitely the number of children in nursing homes has grown unacceptably to a higher level. And even in DCF, we had about 40 kids who were in foster care that were in nursing home settings. So we have taken a holistic approach to that and said, basically, none of these kids need to be in nursing homes unless their medical condition warrants that that is the only choice. We have about a dozen kids that, unfortunately, that is the only option for them.
But for the other children who may have medical conditions, if we can find medical foster homes, then our only responsibility is to train those parents to handle those types of situations. So we’re having great success on that. We’ve cut that number down to under 20 right now, and we’ve got 5 or 6 kids that still need placement. And we’re actively recruiting foster parents to perform that function in those particular communities.
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