There should be little doubt that changes are needed at the Indiana Department of Child Services.
We have heard too many tragic stories of children who have been failed by the system, one way or another. Some suffered and a few died because the state failed to protect them.
There's got to be a better way, Hoosiers have been saying. In fact, there are several better ways.
A legislative study committee spent the summer and fall researching the issues and listening to the testimony of a long list of witnesses. On Tuesday that group recommended a number of reforms to improve the DCS mess.
One of these reforms is to change the DCS centralized child abuse hotline to have case managers at the county level take every call. There have been too many complaints about too many calls being "screened out" and not acted upon by intake specialists and supervisors at the centralized call center. Let the local caseworkers make that decision.
That reform, if enacted by the General Assembly next session, likely won't happen until at least 2014 because of the need to issue new administrative rules on the new hotline procedures as well as hiring up to 156 new DCS employees at an annual cost of about $9 million.
Other recommendations by the study committee include:
- Require more intensive, more thorough review of unexplained child fatalities. Each county's child fatality review team would be overseen by the Indiana Department of Health, rather than DCS.
- Require a "no abuse" affidavit at child custody hearings.
- Create a commission on improving the status of children.
- Establish a permanent DCS oversight committee.
- Allow prosecutors to file a Child in Need of Services (CHINS) petition.
- Improve cooperation between law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts.
The state DCS was born out of a need to better protect Hoosier children. The number of caseworkers was greatly expanded, and service was improved. Now it's time to continue that effort to step up efforts to protect Hoosier children.
The General Assembly should enact these reforms.