Indiana News

Indiana lawmakers to discuss DCS caseloads, foster parents in summer study

Indiana Department of Child Services summer study topic

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In the coming days, Indiana lawmakers will meet for their legislative summer study committees.

Among those topics will be the state’s Department of Child Services.

Monday, News 8 got an insider’s look at that committee and what Hoosiers can expect from the study.

State Rep. Greg Steuerwald, a Republican from Avon, said he wants to send a clear message from the Statehouse directly to DCS and the people who work there.

“We know how difficult their job is. It’s a very stressful situation. We want them to understand that we’re supportive, and we’re gonna give them the tools they need to do their job effectively,” Steuerwald said. 

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Steuerwald chairs the committee tasked with figuring out what can be done through the legislature to improve DCS.

In June, an outside agency completed a monthslong DCS audit, which focused on what the department was doing well and what needed to improve moving forward.

Three key highlights of that 116-page report

  • Indiana has twice as many court-involved Child Services cases than the national average. 
  • 55 percent of children are being removed from their homes are because of parental substance abuse. 
  • 45 percent of Child Services family case managers have caseloads that are higher than the state standard. 

In July, DCS Director Terry Stigdon told lawmakers there was a “culture of fear” inside DCS. 

Stigdon said employees were afraid they would be fired if they made mistakes. She said some were too afraid to even ask questions. 

Stigdon vowed changes would soon come. 

“Hats off to the DCS workers and what they try to get accomplished. They’re overworked and underpaid — we know that. We’ve got to try to figure out how to help those folks as well. It can be fixed. It’s not working right now, as it should. There’s good aspects to DCS, as you said, but we can always do better,” House Democratic Leader Terry Goodin, a Democrat from Austin, said.

The committee also expects to look into why foster parent turnover is so high, as well as the high caseload many DCS staffers face.

“We’re trying to work on caseloads that are more manageable, enable these people to do their jobs,” Steuerwald said.

Goodin is not on the committee, but he told News 8 what he wants to see from his fellow lawmakers: “The number one issue is that the children are protected. That’s our number one goal.”

Steuerwald expects testimony at the committee to include employees from DCS, as well as judges familiar with the department’s processes.

Steuerwald said he was working on a rough draft of a bill that will be tweaked as the committee hears testimony.

The committee’s first meeting is scheduled for Sept. 5.