Legislation to bring necessary reforms to the Department of Child Services has fortunately cleared the first hurdles in the Indiana General Assembly.
House Bill 1142 would require DCS to hire 156 new employees to lead investigations and would better staff the state's centralized child abuse hotline.
State Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, called the employee turnover rate at the DCS call center "pretty bad."
DCS spokesoman Stephanie McFarland quantified that turnover rate at 49.6 percent, although many employees were promoted or returned to other DCS jobs.
The legislation also would require every hotline call to be referred to a local DCS office for possible investigation.
Senate Bill 105, like HB 1142, mandates DCS officials investigate every abuse or neglect claim reported by school, medical, social, police or judicial personnel.
Senate Bill 572 re-establishes county or regional child fatality review teams to review sudden, unexplained child deaths, including deaths related to child abuse. A statewide coordinator would assist the local teams.
All these reforms have been approved by House or Senate committees so far.
It's important to note the cost of these reforms. Hiring additional staff is expected to cost $9 million a year. That must be accounted for in the state's budget for the next two years.
But these reforms are necessary. There are too many cases of children who either died in the midst of a DCS investigation or because the DCS failed to spot signs of abuse.
For the hotline, each delay in answering calls adds to the peril a child might be facing.
In Lake County, it is difficult to forget the tragic case of 13-year-old Christian Choate, whose body was found in a shallow grave in May 2011 in a Black Oak mobile home park two years after he is believed to have died. Court documents allege Christian was beaten repeatedly for several years and confined to a cage for as long as a year.
DCS officials had investigated numerous claims of abuse and neglect in the Choate household but didn't substantiate any abuse of Christian, DCS records show.
Riley Choate, the boy's father, was sentenced to 80 years in prison. His stepmother pleaded guilty to felony neglect but has not yet been sentenced.
DCS workers cannot be perfect, and their jobs are not enviable. But when the system fails, lives are at stake.
Keep up the pressure to make these DCS reforms become law. Hoosier children need this additional protection.