(INDIANAPOLIS) – The recommendations for reforming the Department of Child Services will get a closer look from a legislative study committee this summer:
House Judiciary Chairman Greg Steuerwald’s (R-Avon) committee will review proposals to change the legal definitions of abuse and neglect, and who counts as a “caregiver” covered by the law. An independent review ordered by Governor Holcomb found Indiana law forces D-C-S to review more cases than other states, while more than four out of five are ruled unproven.
Indiana also takes more cases to court than most states. Legislators in both parties say they’re concerned about reports that many requests to remove children from the home are based on parental drug use and nothing else.
House Speaker Brian Bosma says the agency’s budget will get a full review in upcoming discussions of the next budget. He and Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage) note the agency has received more than 400-million dollars beyond its budget allocation in the current two-year cycle because of ever-growing demand.
Bosma speculates one reason the agency has been so aggressive in taking cases to court may be that its first two leaders were former juvenile judges who saw the problem through that lens.
Governor Holcomb shifted another 25-million dollars to DCS after the report was issued last month, with part of the money earmarked for raises to reduce turnover. DCS director Terry Stigdon says she’ll also use the extra cash to hire a peer coach to mentor caseworkers.
Paul Vincent with the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, which wrote the report, says the high turnover contributes to the high caseloads, as well as what the report calls a “culture of fear.” Judges who see inexperienced caseworkers in their courtrooms get frustrated, and begin demanding specific actions and deadlines. Vincent says that amplifies fears caseworkers already have about getting disciplined or fired for any mistake, and prompts them to take more cases to court rather than risk a backlash for not pursuing them.
Tallian says the report doesn’t give enough detail on the reasons kids are put in foster care.
Paul Vincent with the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group (left) with Department of Child Services director Terry Stigdon (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)