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Indiana child welfare agency seeks $286M more per year

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Department of Child Services is requesting an additional $286 million per year in funding to help the struggling agency keep up with its rising caseloads and address lingering issues within the child welfare system.

The department’s budget request would designate roughly $965 million from the state’s general fund per year for the next two fiscal years. Lawmakers last year set aside more than $600 million a year for the department but ended up spending hundreds of millions more in one-time funding to help the agency that has seen overworked employees, high turnover and internal conflict.

The department has faced criticism since last December, when the department’s former director, Mary Beth Bonaventura, resigned and accused Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration of making changes to management and service cuts that “all but ensure children will die.”

Holcomb responded by hiring the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group to review the agency and make recommendations.

The state’s Department of Child Services has already made changes based on the group’s guidance, such as hiring more supervisors and attorneys.

The agency wants to use the recently proposed funding to continue addressing the system’s lack of trained case workers and limited substance abuse treatment programs available, in addition to court delays resulting from having few experienced attorneys.

The budget request aligns with House Speaker Brian Bosma’s predictions last month that the child services department will likely need to take up more than 75 percent of anticipated state tax revenue growth. Bosma said the move could limit school funding and other initiatives in the state’s new two-year budget.

But some state lawmakers have expressed concern that the budget increase might not cover all of the department’s needs.

Republican Sen. Liz Brown questioned why the funding request didn’t include a cushion for unexpected emergencies, while Democratic Sen. Karen Tallian said the state needs to put more money toward the shortage of foster care parents.