A study committee examining the Department of Child Services voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend making the DCS hotline a hybrid system that would keep in place a centralized call center in Indianapolis while increasing involvement of local DCS offices.
Under the recommendation, all calls placed to the hotline will immediately be routed to the appropriate local office and local case managers will decide whether to investigate further. Evansville Democratic Representative Gail Riecken has been a vocal opponent of the centralized hotline but says the compromise is acceptable.
“Our local counties are going to have to continue to have buy-in to the results, people will be more engaged,” Riecken says. “I think it’s overall a better opportunity for our children and safety.”
The recommendations also call for DCS hiring 60 more employees and supervisors at the call center while adding 96 case managers and supervisors around the state. Hartford City Republican Representative Kevin Mahan says for that to happen, the General Assembly will have to increase the DCS budget by about nine million dollars a year in the new budget.
“I think it needs to rate very high,” he says. “We’re talking about the safety of children. We’re talking about some of the most vulnerable Hoosiers that we have in society.”
If the legislature approves the added funding and changes to the hotline, it will likely take until early 2014 for all the recommendations to be fully implemented.
Recommendations for Additional Oversight
In addition, the committee is recommending the General Assembly establish two, more permanent groups to oversee how the DCS and other agencies are handling child welfare issues in the state.
Made up of legislators, judges, attorneys and DCS officials, Markle Republican Senator Travis Holdman says the committee would continue the work of the study committee.
“Specifically it will deal with looking at the operation of the Department of Child Services and also for implementation and study of issues that we could not resolve in the limited amount of time that we had here,” he says.
The recommendations also call for the creation of the Commission on Improving the Status of Children, which Holdman says will help manage the 30 different Indiana boards and agencies that deal with children’s issues.
“Try to consolidate where we’re able to do that and to take a new look at children in the state of Indiana,” he asys.
The creation of both committees will require the passage of legislation by the General Assembly next session.
Changes Already Being Put In Place
Indiana Department of Child Services director John Ryan says his agency is already implementing improvements to address issues raised during a legislative study committee’s investigation without waiting for legislative action.
“[We're] in the process of hiring an additional 120 family case managers and an additional 75 supervisors,” he says. “What that is going to address is the turnover issue that we have been experiencing which has been quite high.”
Ryan says those additions are already budgeted for and will need legislative approval. He anticipates completing those hires by June of next year. Further changes, such as hiring more workers for the DCS hotline, will require legislation from the General Assembly.