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Editorial: Protect kids from system


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Local authorities are understandably focusing their attention on an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of a 19-month-old Columbus child last week.

Columbus police are seeking to determine how Evan Jack McCue died and who might be responsible. Preliminary autopsy results indicate that the boy died from an injury to his head, and a 30-year-old Columbus man has been arrested on a felony child neglect charge.

This story is a tragic reminder that the terrifying scourge of child abuse still haunts our society.

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. The overall issue of child abuse has drawn the attention of the Indiana General

Assembly.

Last week a legislative study committee recommended changes that would return more local control and input into the investigation of child abuse and neglect reports.

The Indiana Department of Child Services has been under intense scrutiny much of this year, with horror stories reported from all corners of the state and in between.

Members of the study committee reviewing the department unanimously approved asking the state to draft emergency regulations that would give county field workers a much-needed voice in how abuse and neglect cases are handled. That would be much as cases used to be handled, before all calls were funneled to a central hotline.

The lawmakers also want to establish a permanent legislative committee that would oversee the state agency and recommend expanding and adding what they called child fatality review teams.

The vote last Tuesday followed months of stirring hearings on the agency’s problems after media investigations into dozens of child deaths across the state. Children’s advocates and lawmakers alike pointed blame at the state’s centralized abuse reporting hotline in large part for screening out calls that should have been investigated by caseworkers and the police, The Associated Press reported.

Department of Child Services officials said the decision by the legislative committee would maintain a centralized reporting system but decentralize decisions on which calls are investigated. That’s where local offices would enter the

picture.

It should be noted that questions being raised around the state have not surfaced in relation to the case of Evan Jack McCue, but it would certainly seem appropriate that a thorough study of agencies’ handling of the situation be undertaken upon completion of any criminal investigation.

While we remain dubious of continuing the central reporting system, we applaud the effort to bring local child welfare officials into the decision-making process once reports are made.

The Associated Press reported last week that the state estimates the program would cost $9 million, much of it for hiring new caseworkers in local offices. The state has struggled to retain caseworkers, largely based on the low salary offered.

While that cost may conflict with Gov.-elect Mike Pence’s promise to place a moratorium on new regulations upon taking office, his campaign has pointed out that the proposed moratorium includes an exemption for “rules necessary to address emergency health or safety concerns,” the AP added. This infusion of cash would clearly meet that exemption, and it should.

We support the effort to return a local voice to the decision-making when child abuse and child neglect allegations are reported to the Indiana Department of Child Services. Local caseworkers often possess much more knowledge of what’s happening on the ground than a centralized panel in Indianapolis.

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