[r53] Cherry Chat: Keeping the home Open (1/26/2009)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Start Date: 1/26/2009 All Day
End Date: 1/26/2009

Since the announcement was made that the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home in Knightstown will be closing, I have been meeting with several state legislators, the commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health, representatives of the governor's office, the Home's superintendent and attending support rallies at the Statehouse.  I can tell you we are making progress and that questions are finally being answered. 

The children's home provides education, room, board and guidance to 114 students. Within the home are the school, living quarters and recreational areas for students. The home also includes the best vocational school in the state, providing a wide array of services to its students and 10 area high schools. Overall, the home offers a safe mentoring community where children in need of special attention are given the opportunities to excel.

When the home opened in 1865, it provided care, education and maintenance to the orphaned and destitute children of Civil War veterans. In 1867, the State assumed control of the home and was renamed the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors Children's Home in 1929.

State Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville), state Sen. Jean Leising and I made a visit to the home's facility last week where we were able to meet the Superintendent Paul Wilkinson and tour the grounds. The idea was to gain insight about how and why the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) plans to close the home in May.

The decision to close was made after the ISDH commissioner said the home could not properly meet the needs of the students.  That decision was based upon what was initially believed to be a comprehensive study, but home supporters, including me, suggest it is simply an assessment contained within a series of documents and reports.  Therefore, we need to conduct an honest and careful evaluation of the home, which should be based on the measure of success, rather than on its budget impact.

ISDH's decision came as a surprise to most state legislators; we were not informed of the announcement until reading headlines in the newspaper.  There should have been better communication.

My greatest concern is for these children and what their futures hold if the home closes. I have heard many success stories from various people whose lives are better because of the home. They are now living upstanding citizens as a result of what they learned at the home.  I would hate to take that future away from these children.

From what I have seen, the facility has an excellent track record with helping students improve their academic scores within years of joining the home. The average student's ISTEP scores increase 35 to 45 points in both math and verbal scales every year they attend the school within the home. Students from this facility have been able to continue their education to college, join the military and find good jobs.

Sending these children away from the home will not have a positive effect on anyone. Some of them have no other home to go to, and others have no future in the home they do have. Most of these children come from troubled homes with drug, alcohol or physical abuse. If we send them home, we will deny them brighter futures with possible catastrophic endings.

The biggest challenge we face is getting the home's story out to the public so that enrollment has a chance to grow. Enrolling more children in the home helps because the cost of living there is then reduced. The buildings in use at the home are in good shape, so the school easily could double its enrollment without any additional operating fees.

The home not only benefits children with special needs; it also benefits children with military parents. The American Legion has been a huge financial contributor to the home for all its support for military families. The organization ensures the home gives deployed parents the security of knowing their children will be in a safe environment. The legion is also one of the advocate groups working to keep the home open.

Finally, I must point out how wonderful the home's staff and teachers have been. Over the past few days, I have spoke with several employees who have shown great concern for the well-being of their current students. Simply put, they work there because they care about the kids.

Rep. Saunders, Rep. Cleo Duncan (R-Greensburg) and I are working with Rep. Scott Reske (D-Pendleton) on legislation to provide opportunities for keeping the home open, better defining its mission and improving its overall operation. The details are still being discussed, but I believe we must do something to stop the closing.

The Committee of Ways and Means plans to schedule an opportunity for supporters of the Home to give testimony as to why the Home should stay open in mid-February. When a date is released, I will be sure to let you know.

I would also like to take the time to thank all the supporters that attended Monday's rally for the Home. We had a great turnout and lots of input as to why the Home should remain open. Supporters from all over came to join in on the support. We heard from current students who have overcome academic difficulties and alumni who have become successful businessman. Needless to say, the rally was a success and big thanks goes out to all that helped.

Your input, interest and continued support still is needed and greatly appreciated.  You can contact me by calling toll free at 1-800-382-9841, sending e-mail to H53@in.gov or writing me at the Statehouse, 200 West Washington St., Room 401, Indianapolis, IN 46204.  If you are interested in finding ways to help the children's home, please contact me.

If you are looking for more information regarding the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home, here are some Web sites you might find helpful:

- American Legion: http://www.legion.org/homepage.php

- Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home Alumni Association: http://isschalumni.com/index.html

-Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home: http://www.issch.state.in.us/index.html

- Indiana State Department of Health: www.in.gov/isdh/