[r54] Nationwide Community Fights to Save the Knightstown Children's Home (1/9/2009)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Start Date: 1/9/2009 All Day
End Date: 1/9/2009

I just start reading about it. About the kids and the staff. About everything the Home has done to make everybody's life better, and I get teary-eyed. It's hard news to take, and I just started calling everyone I could think of who might be able to do something about it. Say what you will about its history, the only thing I can think about now is those kids.

 

-    Reaction of an employee of the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Children's Home after learning the home is slated for closing.

 

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Since I first heard the news early this week, I've talked to so many people who are involved with the Home in one way or another. They all have a unique story to tell, and they all are heartbroken at the prospect of its closing.

But nobody is taking this quietly. Alumni, staff and community members are organizing, talking to the media, calling state and federal agencies and lawmakers, writing e-mails, even creating a Facebook page to promote discussion about the home's proposed closing. A common thread: The Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Children's Home was and is the very best home many have ever known.

How could this happen? What can we do now? These are the most difficult questions to answer, and I have been on the losing end of a lot of battles involving state government and the Statehouse. What I can't do is make promises. What I will do is promise that it's not over until it's over. We've still got a lot of fighting to do.

There are many sensible reasons to fight the state's decision. The Department of Health cited a three-year facility study as the basis for its decision, but any study that neglects speaking to staff, the students, the alumni or community leaders from the area isn't much of a study.  There is, as one former staff member so aptly put it, "a total lack of perspective in all of their findings."

The department provides a bulleted list of budget-minded statistics. It describes the recommended transition of the Children's Home to the Department of Corrections as "a win/win situation." Really? For whom?

It's certainly not a win/win situation for the children who will be forced back into the same awful home environment or foster care system that failed them before they arrived at the Children's Home. It's not a win/win for the staff or the alumni or the community. It's not a win/win situation for anyone except government bureaucrats and politicians who are desperate for any way to snatch up more taxpayer dollars for their own interests.

The Department of Health cites the high cost of educating a child at the home - about $90,000 per student per year. This is not considered in relation to the 3-1 student-teacher ratio. That ratio is not unreasonable. The students come to the home with exceptionally serious social and educational needs. A teacher wouldn't accomplish anything worthwhile with a group of 20 high-needs children. And, of course, these kids score below the ISTEP average; most of them are several grade levels behind when they arrive at the Home.

Next, consider the cost of incarcerating criminals, which is more than $20,000 per year. How many of these kids could end up in our jails, and how much taxpayer money will be lost if these kids don't become the contributing citizens the Home prepared them to be? You can't measure that cost, because it doesn't fit well into a bulleted list. It's the cost of lost futures, which is already draining our society.

What's most frustrating to me about the decision is the failure of state government entities to communicate. Department of Health Commissioner Judy Monroe, in one report, challenged those in opposition to come up with a better idea.

There are many of us with better ideas. It would have been nice to be consulted before the decision to turn the historic campus into a correctional facility. There are other options to investigate, such as allowing more children to be admitted. With all the recent problems with Child Protective Services and the Family and Social Services Agency, we ought to save more young lives by sending more of these kids to places such as the Soldiers and Sailors Children's Home. If there are problems with the Home's mission, give staff, alumni and community leaders the opportunity to reform and update.

The hundreds upon hundreds of Hoosiers and Americans fighting the closing have plenty of ideas worth investigating, and the case should be reopened to evaluation and investigation by all involved parties. The home doesn't belong to just the state of Indiana. It belongs also to the children who depend on it, the staff who keep it going and the community that is proud of its legacy.

Update

Since this column was written, several state legislators, including Rep. Cherry, Rep. Duncan, Rep. Reske, Sen. Gard and Sen. Leising and I have met with countless constituents, judges, the governor's staff and others.  Rep. Reske is working on an amendment to keep the Home open and increase its population.  Stay tuned for more information as it develops.