Panel endorses changing caseload limits at Indiana Department of Child Services

The Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary on Wednesday recommended the General Assembly next year change the caseload limits for family case managers at the Department of Child Services.

INDIANAPOLIS — A legislative study committee is recommending that caseload limits for Department of Child Services family case managers be changed next year by the General Assembly to better align with national standards.

The Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary proposed Wednesday that family case managers be allowed to oversee up to 12 families participating in in-home services aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect, or up to 13 children in out-of-home placements.

Current state law sets a caseload limit of 17 children, no matter their placement; a statutory service level DCS consistently has struggled to meet due to high turnover, low pay and difficult working conditions for family case managers.

Changing the standard from children to families was a recommendation of the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group that Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb this year hired to analyze Indiana's child services agency in comparison with similar agencies in other states.

It concluded that if Indiana adopted the caseload standard followed by most other states — and endorsed by the Child Welfare League of America — it could provide better service to Hoosier families while perhaps needing fewer case managers, who then could be paid more money.

At the same time, the study committee refused to fully go along with the consultant's recommendation that DCS be permitted 24 hours to respond to a child that DCS learns is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm.

State law currently mandates DCS conduct an on-site assessment within one hour in such a situation.

The committee is proposing to bump the time limit for a DCS assessment to two hours, given the rural nature of many Indiana counties and the potential travel distance between a DCS employee and an endangered child.

The General Assembly is not bound to act on the study committee's recommendations when it convenes in January for a four-month session.

Individual lawmakers also have indicated they are likely to propose other DCS reforms for the House and Senate to consider enacting.


Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.