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BLOOMINGTON — Some Central Illinois children in foster care and in intact family services are transitioning to other agencies as Children's Home & Aid ends those two services in the Bloomington-Normal and Champaign-Urbana areas because of stagnant reimbursement rates by the state.

"As a longstanding community partner in Central Illinois, we are disappointed that Children's Home & Aid had to reach this decision," said Melissa Ludington, the agency's senior vice president of child welfare services.

But the agency is committed to the best possible services for children and families "and this decision allows that to happen," Ludington said.

Ludington and Paula Corrigan-Halpern, the agency's vice president of public policy and strategic initiatives, spoke with The Pantagraph on Wednesday, more than two months after the agency said that, effective May 31, Children's Home & Aid would no longer provide foster care and intact family services in Central Illinois.

Foster care is for children removed from their birth parents and placed in another home because they have been indicated by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) as being at risk for abuse and neglect. Children's Home & Aid in the area provided foster care to 170 children representing 91 families, Ludington said.

As of Wednesday, all but three families were transitioning to another agency or back to DCFS, Ludington said. The three remaining families, in the Champaign-Urbana area, will be transitioned by Thursday, she said.

"The transition began in March and we are working to make this as smooth a transition as possible for our families ... so there is no disruption in services," Ludington said.

"The Baby Fold did accept some of those transfers and hired one of our staff to continue to provide services and continuity for the families," Ludington said. The Baby Fold is the Normal-based agency whose programs include foster care.

"That care worker will bring many of her cases with her," confirmed Aimee Beam, Baby Fold vice president of development and public relations. "We know that children need consistency and we thought this would be a good way to provide it. Then, more cases are likely to be assigned to us from DCFS over the next year, so this is all still unfolding."

Intact family services address challenges of struggling families to keep them together. Children's Home & Aid was working with 11 families in Central Illinois.

About half of those families satisfactorily completed their services and their cases were closed, Ludington said. "The remaining cases have been transferred to other community providers (including Baby Fold) or DCFS," she said.

Nineteen Children's Home & Aid staff members were affected by the cuts. Five or six have been hired by other community providers, including two by The Baby Fold; three have been retained by Children's Home & Aid to work in other Central Illinois programs; and the remaining employees have not shared their plans with the agency, Ludington said.

"There has been amazing cooperation between Children's Home and Aid, The Baby Fold, Department of Children and Family Services and Center for Youth and Family Solutions," Beam said. "Everyone is doing the best they can for the children."

Foster care and intact family services are funded by the state, but there has been no reimbursement rate increase in two decades, Children's Home & Aid said in March. The agency has been covering the difference and has lost an average of $150,000 a year on the two programs in the past three years.

The low reimbursement makes it difficult to retain staff. Staff turnover for the two programs in Central Illinois has been 50 percent a year, Ludington said

"The child welfare system is experiencing a workforce crisis in the state," she said.

"Rate increases for child welfare organizations are a part of the state budget negotiations," Corrigan-Halpern said. "Children's Home & Aid is fully supportive of any efforts to increase the rates paid to community-based child welfare providers."

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Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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