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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - "After deaths, state rep says Indiana is neglecting child protection agency"

Michael Puente reports from Chicago Public Media WBEZ91.5 in a long story and audio, subtitled "Despite low pay and burdensome caseloads, Indiana's DCS has returned more than $118 million to the state." Some quotes:

Months after three young children died in a Hammond, Indiana house fire, a veteran Indiana lawmaker says the state has deprived the Department of Children Services of much-needed funds in order to ‘pad’ its budget surplus.

The charges raise fresh questions about the ability of the agency to carry out its mission of protecting children from abuse and neglect. * * *

Several parties, from a juvenile judge to the city of Hammond to the birth parents themselves, have been criticized for not preventing the deaths. But many wonder how DCS allowed the children, who were living in foster care just months prior to the fire, to return to a home with no running water, heat nor electricity.

“Maybe the whole system, the laws failed these people,” says DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura. “Could we have done things better? Probably. Again, I don’t know the case intimately. I wasn’t the judge. I didn’t hear the evidence.

Bonaventura was appointed head of Indiana DCS in March 2013 following the ouster of the previous director over an ethics scandal.

“I think without question this is the most important job in the state,” Bonaventura told WBEZ in an exclusive interview last month.

Long before Bonaventura took that job, DCS was already facing scrutiny for its handling of several child abuse and neglect cases.

It still hasn’t been officially determined if the three children in the Hammond house fire died because of neglect. But, in the wake of that incident and others, some see a pattern of neglect from those who oversee DCS down in Indianapolis. They say the agency, with 34-hundred employees scattered throughout 92 counties, doesn’t get enough money or resources to properly do its job. And they point to other cases where kids may have fallen through the cracks as a result. * * *

The average pay of a DCS family case manager is $35,000 a year – this from a state with a $2 billion surplus.

“It doesn’t do us any good to have a surplus that’s built on the backs of Hoosiers, on the backs of the less fortunate. And these kids have nobody to speak for them but the state,” said Indiana State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, a Democrat from Munster in Northwest Indiana.

The veteran Democratic lawmaker takes issue with DCS budget cuts under recent Republican administrations. But more than that, she says DCS has also been giving money back under a process called reversion.

$62 million in 2011 alone according to state records, nearly 14 percent of that year’s DCS budget.

In fact, in the last five years, the child protection agency has returned more than $118 million to state coffers.

There is much more in the lengthy story.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 28, 2014 10:03 AM
Posted to Indiana Government