INDIANAPOLIS – Let’s ponder “our children” and “their children.”
First, Gov. Mike Pence made a wise call this past week when he ordered the Department of Child Services to begin reimbursing families who had adopted special needs children.
A class action lawsuit filed earlier this summer alleged the state of Indiana was essentially a “deadbeat parent” in the words of one LaPorte mom, for reneging on a promised subsidy. It prompted me to write a column a few weeks back suggesting to Pence that supporting these families with the designated $10 million in funding was a more appropriate priority than touting a $2 billion budget surplus, part of which was created when those subsidy monies had been reverted to the general fund.
The governor, who called for Indiana to be the most pro-adoption state in the union during his annual address last January, did not disappoint. “Although the State Adoption Subsidy is only a small piece of the assistance the State of Indiana offers to adoptive parents, it is my belief that funding the program this fiscal year is the right thing to do,” Pence said. “At the same time, the Adoption Study Committee is now looking at this issue, and we appreciate their work to develop recommendations that address the needs of Hoosier families and effectively promote adoption.”
It’s appropriate the issue be studied. And the expectation is that the Pence administration will extend its support for adoption beyond the tax cuts for families who go the course that he proposed and signed into law earlier this year. It is a noble cause.
Sharon Pierce, the CEO of the adoption agency, The Villages, told Indiana Public Media that research shows the subsidies lead to more adoptions. “They encourage families who aren’t sure about their stability economically, and I think that’s the reality of the times we’re living in to take that step, that this is a partnership between the state of Indiana and the adoptive families,” she says.
Beyond the adopting families, the issue of children in Indiana courses through an array of issues.
This summer, we’ve learned that of Indiana’s 804,202 families with 1,562,861 children, 22 percent live in poverty ($23,380 income for a family of four). That is 338,089 children, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty. Of these, 68 percent (229,567) of children in poor families live with a single parent. And 9 percent (30,785) of poor children live in families with no parent present.
We know that in the past decade, per capita income has fallen 13.6 percent for Hoosier families, the second highest decline in the United States. No wonder that the middle and poorer classes are feeling under siege.
Then there is the illegal child immigrant issue, or “their children.” Last month we learned that 245 unaccompanied Central American children were placed in Indiana by the U.S. government.
On this front, Pence protested to President Obama, saying in a letter, “In Indiana last week, we learned from media reports that more than 200 unaccompanied children had been placed by the federal government with sponsors in our state. Only after these media reports were published did the state receive notice from the Department of Health and Human Services that in fact 245 unaccompanied children had been placed in Indiana during the period from January 1, 2014, through July 7, 2014. While we feel deep compassion for these children, our country must secure its borders and provide for a legal orderly immigration process. Those who have crossed our border illegally should be treated humanely and with decency and respect, but they should be returned expeditiously to their home countries to be reunited with their families rather than being dispersed around the United State in sponsored placement or long-term detention facilities.”
The sad fact is that Congress has repeatedly punted on immigration reform and border security issues. Many expect Obama to address the issue with an executive order, which is likely to ignite a political firestorm.
How we care for our own children, and now those following the yearnings of our own ancestors, is worthy of deep thought.
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Sonia Nazario, who wrote the book “Enrique’s Journey” about a Honduran boy who made a perilous journey a decade ago to find his mother in the U.S., sees children like these 245 souls now on Hoosier soil not so much as economic seekers, but as “refugees” trying to escape murderous drug cartels who recruit these kids, often in their own schools.
Nazario believes returning them to their home countries means “sending children back to their deaths.” She says these “refugees” should have due process as opposed to an “expedited return” to their homeland.
All of these issues are fraught with political, ethical and moral dilemmas. If we grant those here asylum, won’t that just trigger future waves? If we return them to Guatemala and Honduras, are they doomed? If we don’t honor commitments to adopting families, are we discouraging others to follow? Does the notion of lower taxes trump the potential state support of nearly a quarter of our children living in poverty, with many unsure of where their next meal comes from?
Our citizens and policymakers have a lot of work to do.
Howey, a former Elkhart Truth reporter, publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.