State askes families for voluntary cut in adoption support

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) - How many families who adopted special needs children that were in state custody could use less support from the state of Washington? The Legislature told the state Department of Social and Health Services to ask.

The department recently sent letters to more than 9,000 families, asking them to make a voluntary reduction in their monthly support payments, The Columbian reported Monday.

"The department asks that you review your family's financial situation to determine whether your family can accommodate a reduction in your current adoption support monthly payment," the letter states. "The amount can be any amount you determine is feasible."

Those who agree to a reduction are asked to fill out a form and return it to the state's Adoption Support Program.

Adoption support payments are governed by contract, so mandatory reductions are unlikely, but Clark County adoptive parents Joe and Sarah Perry were alarmed when they found the letter in their mailbox. They fear the letter may signal an erosion of support for adoptive families.

"I don't have a problem with them asking," Joe Perry said. "My biggest concern is, if they're asking for volunteers, how long until they make reductions mandatory?"

"I can't afford a reduction," he said. "I'm trying to provide for my family, which I am, but it's difficult. We are a single-income family. We need my wife to stay home because of the kids' behavioral issues."

Support payments range from about $400 to $1,400 per child and total about $91 million this year, DSHS spokeswoman Chris Case said.

Costs are split 50-50 with the federal government. Special needs children include those with mental, physical emotional disabilities, minorities, sets of siblings and older children.

"What we're trying to do is find permanent homes for children that are hard to place," DSHS spokesman Thomas Shapley said.

The request to adoptive families to cut their own benefits was ordered by the Legislature this year as lawmakers looked for ways to cut state spending in the program. The request was part of a law that reduces adoption support in new contracts to no more than 80 percent of foster care maintenance payments, effective in July 2013. The current amount is 90 percent, down from 100 percent in 2010, Shapley said.

There's no count yet on the number of adoptive families willing to take less money, he said.

The Perrys won't be volunteering for less help with the three sons they adopted 10 years ago.

The boys, now ages 10, 13 and 14, are siblings and each has challenges, including attention deficit disorder, anxiety, reactive attachment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, The Columbian reported. The youngest tested positive for drugs when he was born, Joe Perry said.

The couple receives about $2,300 per month in adoption support payments for all three children.

They said they would have adopted the children without any compensation, but the assurance of the payments affected financial decisions the family made, including the decision to purchase a larger home so the children could have their own rooms. The mortgage is now underwater due to a decrease in value, Perry said.