Sen. Melton seeking legislative review of Indiana's Department of Child Services

State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, speaks to reporters Monday about his proposal for a legislative evaluation of the Indiana Department of Child Services, separate from the outside review ordered in December by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Dan Carden, The Times

INDIANAPOLIS — State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, believes the Indiana General Assembly should independently evaluate the Department of Child Services separate from the outside assessment ordered in December by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Melton's Senate Resolution 14 calls on legislative leaders to establish a two-year study committee tasked with examining any and all issues relating to DCS, and reporting back with proposed solutions for the House and Senate to act on.

"In order for legislators to do our due diligence — to protect children in the child welfare system — we must have thorough and regular information on the operations of DCS," Melton said.

He explained that the proposed study committee is not intended to undermine the ongoing DCS assessment by the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, but to add transparency to the process and enable legislators to participate in meaningful ways.

He said the committee's goal would be "figuring out what we can do to assure our constituents back home that we're doing all that we can to address this issue."

"The allegations provided by the former director are nothing to take lightly, and I hope that I can get bipartisan support moving forward on this issue," Melton said.

"This is a common sense resolution and I worry that we will further endanger children’s lives if we fail to take action on such an important matter."

The Senate Committee on Children and Family Services heard, but did not act on, Melton's proposal Monday.

The chairman, state Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, said he expects the panel next week likely will consider amendments and possibly vote on whether to advance the measure to the full Senate.

House Republican leaders this year repeatedly have scuttled proposed DCS investigations, preferring instead to wait for the governor's outside review to be completed in June.

Melton said it would be unfortunate if the Senate Republican supermajority followed a similar course.

"This is not a topic that can be ignored, and I hope my colleagues on the other side of the aisle understand the position they will put our state and our children in if they do not agree to study this issue," he said.

The state child protection agency came under scrutiny after its director, former Lake Superior Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura, resigned in December with a warning that Holcomb's DCS management and spending priorities "all but ensure children will die."

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.