This editorial first appeared in the South Bend Tribune. Send comments to editorial@
Hoosiers concerned about the warning signs at the Department of Child Services won’t be reassured by the first report from the consultant charged with assessing the agency.
Recently, the Child Welfare Policy Practice Group announced two primary findings in its DCS review: that Indiana removes children from homes and places them in state care at more than twice the national average; and the state uses an inadequate computer system to track child welfare cases.
Another report, released by the Department of Health and Human Services, found that the number of child abuse deaths has doubled in Indiana.
Gov. Eric Holcomb had ordered a complete assessment in the wake of the scathing resignation letter from DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura. In the letter, she argued that cuts to DCS’ funding and services are putting children at risk in the midst of the state’s opioid crisis. She warned that a continuation of the governor’s office’s policies will “all but ensure children will die.”
The opioid epidemic has led to a surge in the number of U.S. children placed in foster care; Indiana is among the handful of states where the problem is particularly severe.
Consider that the national average of children placed in out-of-home state care is 5.5 per 1,000, but in Indiana, the number is about 13 per 1,000. According to the report, the population has doubled since 2012 — from 2,897 to 16,834 in 2017.
It’s natural to wonder about the strain this dramatic increase in the number of child welfare cases has placed on the system. We shouldn’t have to wonder for long, as the study should be completed this spring.
Holcomb’s office has said the group will evaluate several issues including whether DCS funding is being used appropriately, whether systems are in place to ensure the health and safety of children and families, if staffing levels are appropriate and how DCS’ caseloads, costs and outcomes compare to those in other states.
We expect that the public will be kept informed as the answers to those questions are revealed, in keeping with Holcomb’s promise that the review will be transparent.
And we’re counting on the governor to honor another vow made in his State of the State address: to “do whatever is necessary to ensure the success of our agency and its mission.”