Indiana Child Services Hires 113 to Address More Abuse and Neglect Reports

by | August 17, 2015

By Marisa Kwiatkowski

Despite adding 117 new positions this year, the Indiana Department of Child Services still can't keep up with the influx of reports of children being abused and neglected.

Gov. Mike Pence announced today that he is authorizing DCS to hire 113 more family case managers, at a cost of about $7.2 million.

"The men and women at DCS have an incredibly difficult job," Pence said in a statement to The Star. "We want to make sure that we're not only meeting our statutory obligations, but also that we're doing right by our kids. To that end, we will also continue to support prevention efforts on the part of DCS in order to combat the unacceptable yet ever-rising increase in instances of child abuse and neglect in our communities."

DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura said those positions will enable the state agency to comply with the Indiana law that requires family case managers to handle no more than 12 initial assessments or 17 ongoing cases. As of June 30, only one of DCS' 19 regions -- the agency's central office -- met that standard.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit on behalf of DCS family case manager Mary Price and all other family case managers employed by the agency. The lawsuit claims DCS' failure to comply with Indiana law is making it "extremely difficult" for them to do their jobs and is putting children at risk.

"It appears that the state is attempting to address the fact that DCS is currently failing to comply with the mandatory caseload standards that the legislature established to protect Hoosier children," Ken Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana, said in a statement. "We will have to evaluate the effect of these additional positions to determine if the agency is finally able to meet its statutory mandate."

Bonaventura said today's announcement has "zero" to do with that lawsuit. The agency regularly analyzes employees' caseloads, she said, and it determined the need for more people while preparing a report for the State Budget Committee.

"It became clear with the influx of cases that we're not going to meet it," Bonaventura said, referring to mandated caseload limits. As of June 30, there were 18,621 children in the child welfare system -- a 26.1 percent increase from the year before, state records show.

Bonaventura said the uptick in cases is "to a large degree fueled by drugs."

In April, Marion Juvenile Court Judge Marilyn Moores and other child advocates pleaded for people to become foster parents or court-appointed special advocates to handle the "deluge" of cases involving parents addicted to heroin.

Bonaventura said the agency will continue to re-evaluate employees' caseloads and make changes as needed. She said family case managers already are "doing their jobs and protecting children," but the additional positions will ease their workloads.

"It's important they have the right number of people to do the important work," Bonaventura said. "We didn't create the need. What people do in society creates the need. We respond to it."

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