Lawmakers back recommendations to help fix Department of Child Services

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Indiana lawmakers part of the Legislative Council approved a resolution Monday specifically laying out key issues an interim study committee should focus on to help the Department of Child Services (DCS).

The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group (CWG) was asked by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb to examine the performance of the agency and compare it to accepted national standards, identify strengths and challenges, and produce recommendations for areas that need improvement.

The Interim Committee on the Courts and the Judiciary will further the debate and action ahead of the next legislative session to implement the CWG recommendations.

“It’s always a moving target in this regard,” House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said. “I don’t know if there’s a silver bullet, but we’ll continue trying to make it as positive as possible for these vulnerable children.”

The group was hired in December in the wake of a scathing resignation letter from outgoing Department of Child Services director. Mary Beth Bonaventura accused Holcomb’s administration of cutting services and making management changes that “all but ensure children will die.”

“I’m not sure we’ve got a handle yet on what’s the big picture,” State Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) said after Monday’s meeting. “And the big picture is who are these kids that are being removed from their houses and why? And this report didn’t tell us that.”

Holcomb has already directed the Office of Management and Budget to make available $25 million from the state’s surplus immediately to begin implementing the recommendations. Beyond the list of recommendations, lawmakers and agency officials will work the remainder of the year on DCS’ upcoming budget request.

Bosma noted Monday more than $400 million has been transferred to DCS beyond what the agency initially requested this current budget cycle alone.

“I’m still totally confused about the budget they came into two years ago,” Tallian said.

The CWG report also revelaed in the past five years, five evaluations and reports have been made about DCS, many of those recommendations mirroring the new report that were never implemented.

“Yeah I am disturbed by that,” Bosma said. “I had heard that actually there was a substantial one a year-and-a-half ago and it was not implemented and that was disturbing. I can tell you this governor is laser focused on this issue and he has picked folks he has confidence in to run the department. And I know they’re not going to drop the ball on this one.”

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