INDIANAPOLIS — Legislation to implement key recommendations for improving the Department of Child Services was approved 100 to 0 Tuesday by members of the Indiana House.
House Bill 1006, which now goes to the Senate, follows a top-to-bottom review of the child protection agency, by the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, in the wake of the surprise December 2017 resignation of DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura, a former Lake County judge.
The measure changes caseload limits for family case managers to 12 families receiving in-home services, instead of 17 children; and sets a minimum of one family case manager for every 13 children in out-of-home placements.
It also authorizes DCS to respond to a child in imminent danger of serious bodily harm within two hours, rather than the current, often unattainable, one-hour response mandate.
In addition, it allows former foster children to receive collaborative care services until age 21, instead of 18, and only permits poverty to be used in classifying a child as needing DCS services if the child's parent or guardian has the means but fails to meet the child's needs for food, shelter, education, medical care or supervision.
State Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, the sponsor of the proposal, said it addresses the major issues that the consultant identified as requiring changes to state law, while Gov. Eric Holcomb has vowed to enact the recommended administrative reforms needed at DCS.
"We made our pledge that we were going to do everything we could to give the foundation to make DCS successful, and I think we did that," Steuerwald said.
At the same time, House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said Democrats will continue pushing to add a mandate for DCS to immediately hire new case managers, or transfer them from other Indiana regions, any time caseload limits are exceeded in any part of the state.
A proposed amendment to that effect last week was defeated in the Republican-controlled House, 65 to 25.
DCS has been under intense scrutiny by state lawmakers after Bonaventura submitted a fiery resignation letter that accused Holcomb of starving the child protection agency's resources to an extent that she said "all but ensures children will die."