Evidence of troubles at the Indiana Department of Child Services continues to mount. The need for change is very clear.
Last Tuesday, Morgan Circuit Court Judge Matthew Hanson accused the DCS of failing to help children with mental illnesses.
"It would seem DCS is simply waiting around until the child commits such egregious or dangerous acts that the (juvenile delinquency) system has no choice but to file charges against a child with a mental disease/defect, and then the DCS can simply ignore any pleas thereafter to aid such a child," Hanson wrote in his ruling.
If that sounds familiar, it should. A Times investigation this month found families throughout the state struggling to find services for children with severe mental illnesses or disabilities. Parents have resorted to claiming they neglected their children just so their children can get help.
"It makes me irate because, basically, I can't help my son as a parent, and they can't help me, either," said Jennifer Smith, of South Haven. "I feel like I've been painted in a corner with no options available."
So who should provide those options? Logic dictates that the Department of Child Services should step in. That agency, after all, is tasked specifically with protecting the state's children. Ensuring access to proper mental health care fits in that job description.
The Indiana General Assembly has authorized the creation of a two-year study commission on under-served youths with mental health issues in addition to a committee on DCS-related issues.
The judge's ruling last week, along with the overwhelming statewide response to The Times' investigation of juvenile mental health issues, should prompt more speedy action.
The judge's ruling is yet another indication that the DCS is ripe for reform. The welfare of the state's children, not an emphasis on costs, must be top priority.
Gov. Mitch Daniels should move swiftly to launch an outside investigation of the agency's practices so the necessary reforms can begin.
The urgent need to protect Hoosier children demands it.