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 Home’s Mission Changes

May 20, 2009 - The Indiana State Department of Health announced yesterday that the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home will have a “new and larger mission,” even as the agency moves forward with closing the Home’s Morton Memorial School.

The ISDH had announced in January that it planned to close the Home at the end of this school year, which concludes this week. Now, it appears the agency has decided not to close the Home itself, but will, instead, keep it open to house, starting in 2010, the National Guard Youth Challenge Academy, a program that serves at-risk youth.

In a press release issued Tuesday afternoon, the ISDH said its decision will ensure that facility remains open and maintains a military connection, while serving more children at less cost. The agency said the Home will also continue to be used for vocational education and a local Head Start program, and that the Home’s pool will be available for community use at least through next May.

”We’re grateful to the Knightstown community, students, staff, alumni, and others who have been associated with the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home,” Judy Monroe, the state’s health commissioner, said in the press release. “The school has helped many and there are strong and proud traditions that have been built over the years. Now, it’s time for a new chapter, one that will bring a renewed spirit and vibrancy to these grounds and continue the important work that has been the foundation of the Home.”

With the current school semester ending this week, the ISDH press release said students will be returning to their homes, as they do each summer and during school breaks. A firm called Choices, Inc., has been hired to work with children and their families to help develop individualized plans for community an educational support, and will do so through the end of 2009, or longer, if necessary.

“If there are children who need alternative living arrangements, we will work to make certain no child leaves the Home until those plans are solidly in place,” Jim Payne, director of the Department of Child Services, said in the press release.

As for Home employees, the ISDH press release said each employee will receive a job offer for another state position. The Home has about 170 full-time employees. The ISDH described the National Guard Youth Challenge Academy, which is now housed at Camp Atterbury in Johnson County, as a 17-month program for youth ages 16 to 19 who have dropped out of high school. The program, according to the ISDH, includes a five-month residential phase and focuses on structure and discipline, emphasizing education and life-coping skills, with graduates working toward earning a GED.

“The Indiana National Guard is delighted to have the opportunity to expand this outstanding program dedicated to serving young Hoosiers who need a second chance, and Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home will be a terrific facility for us to grow our program and stay true to the history of the Home’s tradition of military association,” Major General R. Martin Umbarger, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard, said in the press release.

“We’ll expand and serve four times as many at-risk youth,” Umbarger continued. “The Knightstown location will not only allow us to free up space required to support the ever increasing Army training mission of Camp Atterbury, but it will also provide us the flexibility to explore, in partnership with the community, other uses for the site in the coming weeks.”

While its current class of cadets only has 76 cadets, the ISDH said in its press release that the National Guard plans to double the number of classes it offers from two to four each year. The program, the ISDH said, has the capacity to support 125 students, which is just slightly higher than the Home’s current enrollment of 114 students.

According to public records the ISDH has provided to The Banner, the agency had been in contact with a representative from the Youth Challenge Academy as early as August 2007. At that time, it appears the ISDH was exploring the possibility of some type of merger between the Home and the Youth Challenge Academy, not replacing the services the Home and its Morton Memorial School were offering.

The ISDH says a transition period of about 16 months will be needed to reconfigure some facilities and move the program from Camp Atterbury to the Home. The agency said the Youth Challenge Academy gets 60 percent of its funding from the federal government, with the remainder, about $1.2 million a year, coming from the state.

Yesterday’s announcement did not set well with many of those who have fought since January to halt the ISDH’s plans to close the Home. Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Dist. 54), one of several lawmakers who tried to get legislation passed that would have saved the Home said he’s not pleased with this outcome.

“I’m just very disappointed with the administration and the way it’s been handled,” Saunders said. Noting that all four caucuses – the Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate – have shown support for keeping the Home open, he said, “I guess the governor doesn’t care what the legislators think about the problem.”

When it announced its plans to close the Home in January, the ISDH had estimated that it cost $65 million to $200 million to make needed upgrades to the Home’s facilities. Saunders said he wondered whether those updates would be needed for the new program.

Saunders also questioned the ISDH’s claim that more students will be served by the new program. He said that the Home presently has more than 100 children on a waiting list, but that the ISDH has prevented the admission of more students.

According to Saunders, there’s still a chance that the Rush Circuit Court could issue an injunction halting the closure of the Home until after the legislature meets in special session to work out a new budget. If the injunction is not issued, he said it might also be possible for lawmakers to act during the special session to reverse the ISDH’s decision.

 

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