Indiana children's commission hoping for broad response to DCS improvement recommendations

Sue Steib, at podium right, details the findings of the Alabama-based Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, from its six-month evaluation of the Indiana Department of Child Services, during a presentation Wednesday in Indianapolis to the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana.

INDIANAPOLIS — The caseload and staffing issues identified in a recent independent review of the Indiana Department of Child Services won't be fixed simply by implementing the 20 changes recommended by the Alabama-based Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group.

Rather, every state and local government agency, school, community group, social organization and religious institution that has a role in the lives of children must do all it can to eliminate the need for those children, and their families, to have any interaction with DCS.

That was the consensus of the inter-agency Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana after being briefed recently on the 116-page DCS report by Sue Steib, one of its authors.

"This can't all be on DCS," said Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush, the commission's chairwoman. "Really, this is a community issue."

According to the report, DCS conducted 227,993 child abuse assessments during the 2017 budget year, up from 139,985 in 2013.

Likewise, the number of abused or neglected children removed from their homes grew 25 percent over the same period, the report found.

"The numbers are startling: There's more abuse and neglect here than in other states; there's more reporting of abuse and neglect than other states; and we have one of the highest infant mortality rates," Rush said.

"We need to turn a lot of these things, and we need to realize that DCS is one part of that."

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But Rush also observed that before abused or neglected children enter the court system, they've often been seen or assisted by myriad "upstream" social service agencies and other child-helping entities.

If the state somehow could make those groups more effective, then the burden on DCS likely would be minimized, she said.

At the same time, Rush said the children's commission will be closely studying the DCS report in the months ahead to find ways that its member organizations can contribute ideas for improvements or recommendations for new state laws.

"I think there's a lot of work to be done," Rush said. "Our charge is to roll up our sleeves, get a lot of our task force chairs working with content experts and to roll this out throughout the state."

Kevin Moore, director of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction at the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, agreed with Rush that improving DCS must be an all-hands-on-deck effort.

"It really reinforces to me that unless our systems, mine included, start working with families and children on a broader, more prevention scale, we will always be chasing how do we stop increasing the work for DCS," Moore said.

"I think a part of our challenge at the commission is how do we engage those other entities around the state to deflect or reduce the number of families needing to be involved with DCS. I think that's the real challenge that lies ahead of us, in addition to making sure that our child welfare and protection system is functioning as well as it possibly can."

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