Department of Child Services Director Mary Beth Bonaventura will resign her position before the end of the month.
In a resignation letter obtained by the Indianapolis Star, Bonaventura told the governor that his staff is cutting her budget and services in the midst of the opioid crisis.
She says the chief of staff Eric Miller was placed in her office by the governor, despite having no child welfare experience.
Bonaventura says Miller is “bent on slashing” the budget and putting children at risk. She says she fears “lives will be lost and families ruined” if changes aren’t made.
Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Bonaventura’s pending departure as he praised the outgoing agency head. In a statement Friday, Holcomb hailed what he calls her “unwavering commitment” to Hoosier children’s safety.
On Monday, Holcomb disputed the allegations, saying funding for the DCS has actually increased over recent years, not decreased. Holcomb says that he shares the same commitment to children as Bonaventura.
“We will continue to do all we can to protect children,” Holcomb said in a statement.
Governor Mike Pence appointed Bonaventura to lead DCS in January 2013. She previously spent three decades in the Lake County judicial system, principally as a juvenile court judge.
The governor’s office says a search for her replacement is underway.
Responses To The Controversy
Indiana House Democratic Leader Terry Goodin released a statement Monday saying the resignation raises some disturbing questions.
“To hear that the director of DCS is leaving that post because the administration is pursuing policies that ‘all but ensure children will die’ should give any reasonable person pause,” Goodin says in the statement.
He goes on to say Democrats will be asking the governor questions about the DCS budget, and that “if it’s a choice between saving dollars or saving lives, there should be no debate here.”
One non-profit director Brent Kent, who works with foster youth says the leadership change could be an opportunity.
“To reevaluate what we’re doing and how we can make changes to benefit foster youth,” Kent says.
Possibility Of New Funding?
Indiana fiscal leaders say it’s too soon to say whether there will be money available to supplement the Department of Child Services’ budget in the upcoming legislative session.
House Ways and Means Chair Tim Brown says the legislature approved more than $500 million more for DCS over the last two state budgets.
“We’ll just have to look at is that the appropriate level,” Brown says. “Hopefully done in a budget situation – I don’t know, as I said earlier may be too early to tell what the 2018 session will bring.”
But the legislature won’t write a new two-year state budget until the 2019 session.
If DCS does ask for more money in 2018, a new revenue forecast unveiled Monday predicts the state will have nearly $400 million less than previously expected over the next year and a half.
Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) notes that’s as an ongoing cut to the state’s corporate tax rate is expected to cost the state $24 million next year.
“I think we should ask Mary Beth Bonaventura what we can spend $24 million on this year. Just saying,” Tallian says.
The 2018 legislative session gets underway in January.
This post has been updated.