Indiana lawmakers outline action plan for Child Services

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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Some of the state’s most powerful lawmakers and leaders gathered Monday at the Statehouse to talk about what’s next for the Department of Child Services.

The meeting came just weeks after Gov. Eric Holcomb allotted an additional $25 million to the troubled department.

Lawmakers on Monday unanimously passed a resolution that gave a few details about the topics assigned to a summer study committee for Child Services. Also, Democratic Party leaders asked Child Services’ new director, Terry Stigdon, to describe the “culture of fear” that lawmakers said they heard the department’s workers endure.

Stigdon said, “Fear that if they make a mistake, they’ll be immediately terminated. We’re human beings. As much as we’d like to be perfect, we can’t be. The fear to ask questions. We know if you can’t ask a question, how do you learn? That was something I found as well, when I visited around the state.” 

Stigdon said that has got to change.

Child Services finished a complete audit weeks ago as ordered by Holcomb. 

Even after hearing directly from the new Child Services director, state Sen. Karen Tallian, a Democrat from Portage, said she was still confused about exactly how much money Child Services needs to right the ship. 

Tallian said, “Getting the money straight with DCS has got to be a priority. We heard from Mary Beth Bonaventura (the former Child Services director who resigned in December) that she didn’t have enough money to operate, to hire the case managers she needed.”

Republican leaders praised the Holcomb administration for taking action to fix Child Services. House Speaker Brian Bosma serves as chair of the Legislative Council that met Monday. He acknowledged problems within the department for years. Bosma also noted he learned around February that a Child Services audit from a year ago and had not been put into practice. 

Bosma said, “I don’t know that I’m upset or angered by that. It was in the hands of a person who had been very critical of the department, so that was a bit disturbing that there was a report available that perhaps could have addressed some of the issues.”

So, what happens next?

The Child Services oversight committee is scheduled to meet in just about two weeks, on July 18.  We’re expecting more developments to come from that meeting and as Child Services continues to dive into the most recent audit recommendations.

Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, a Democrat from Anderson, released a statement after Monday’s meeting:

“I think today’s meeting was a small first step to addressing the numerous recommendations provided by the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group in its report on the Department of Child Services (DCS). It is concerning that DCS has undergone five other similar reports in the last five years, only one of which my caucus was made aware of, and very few of those recommendations were implemented. The governor’s administration must get serious about implementing recommendations to keep children safe. At the end of the day, the lives of our children are on the line and we must do everything in our power to protect them and that includes providing the Department with the funds they need to do their jobs adequately. I hope the State Budget Committee keeps this in mind as we begin crafting the state’s next biennial budget.”

Bosma issued a statement, too:

“Several of the recommendations made by the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group regarding the Department of Child Services may require substantive changes to state law. That’s why we assigned a number of these topics to the Interim Committee on the Courts and the Judiciary, where they can be fully vetted and lawmakers can bring sound policy recommendations to the table next session. Improving the state’s child welfare system requires a comprehensive approach, and we remain fully committed to improving outcomes for these vulnerable children.”

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