INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Indiana’s Department of Child Services director told Gov. Eric Holcomb in her resignation letter the administration has hindered her ability to protect children amid the ongoing opioid crisis.
Mary Beth Bonaventura informed Holcomb she was resigning on Friday and will formally step down on Dec. 27.
In a scathing resignation letter obtained by CBS4, Bonaventura says she is “now in the untenable position of seeing Hoosier Children being systematically placed at risk, without the ability to help them,” which she says is a first in her 36-year career.
Her resignation was due in part to cuts of her budget and services.
“I feel I am unable to protect children because of the position taken by your staff to cut funding services to children in the midst of the opioid crisis,” she said.
She wrote that she resigned instead of being complicit in “decreasing the safety, permanency, and well being of children who have nowhere else to turn.”
She claims has been stripped of the power to run DCS for the past 11 months, and the chief of staff Eric Miller has bullied subordinates and created a hostile work environment.
Miller, who she says was put in place despite having no experience, is “bent on slashing our budget in ways that all but ensure children will die,” she said.
She called Miller the “greatest threat to this agency and child welfare.”
Unless “serious change” in how Holcomb’s office approaches child welfare happens, Bonventura says, “I feel lives will be lost and families ruined.”
Bonventura served for nearly five years as DCS director and is a former Lake County judge.
CBS4 took the director’s concerns to Gov. Holcomb Monday afternoon.
“There was a need for more funding and that’s why we moved almost a half a billion dollars into that one agency to make sure we were doing the best job possible to care for the kids of Indiana and we’ll continue to do that ,” Holcomb said. “There’s been a substantial increase in funding for the department to meet the needs of children.”
The governor’s office said he approved a $200 million budget increase for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 appropriated in the 2017 budget session and made $250 million in additional funds available from FSSA to support DCS services. They said that was on top of $137 million provided at the end of June 2017 from the general fund. As for the statements made about the DCS Chief of Staff, Holcomb said he did not want to get into personnel issues.
“I’m focused on the very folks that we serve and that’s the children of this state,” Holcomb said.
Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) issued this statement:
“I am deeply disturbed by the resignation of Judge Bonaventura and the circumstances she has identified as the cause of her departure. The judge has been an authority on what is best for this state’s most vulnerable children for decades, and it appears that her resignation is based on the administration’s departure from her core value of keeping children safe.
“Since the height of the recession in 2009 the Department of Child Services has seen deep cuts to their funding and it appears that those cuts are continuing, putting our children at an unnecessary risk. The state seems to place a priority on preserving the nearly two billion dollar budget surplus, rather than protecting children. Discussions about cutting the budget to the agency responsible for protecting kids increasingly harmed by Indiana’s opioid crisis are wholly irresponsible.
“Legislative leaders, including myself, will have plenty of questions for the governor’s administration and their apparent misguided priorities. I expect legislators to ask for a special committee to investigate these concerns during the State Budget Committee meeting today.
“I will demand more action regarding this dangerous situation, and will author legislation if needed to ensure Indiana is doing everything it must do to keep children safe. No matter the cost.”