ILNews

Indiana Department of Child Services urged to set course for new direction

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

With a new governor taking over Indiana’s executive branch in January, what changes, if any, will come to the Department of Child Services are unknown. However, some contend that should not stop the agency from addressing criticism and implementing new policies or programs now.

DCS, established in 2005, has faced a continuing barrage of outrage stemming from allegations that several children have died despite having been reported to the agency as being abused or neglected. It has also drawn ire for its centralized hotline and how it has handled children who have mental health issues.

cindy noe Noe

Currently, the Indiana General Assembly has two groups – the Indiana Commission on Mental Health and Addiction and the Department of Child Services Interim Study Committee – examining the agency, its policies and processes.

Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, and Rep. Cindy Noe, R-Indianapolis, co-chairs of the interim study committee, have already outlined legislation regarding the hotline they intend to introduce during the next legislative session. Moreover, both have met with DCS Interim Director John Ryan and have encouraged him to move forward with addressing the concerns he can administratively.

In the three months remaining before a new governor takes the oath of office, Noe has recommended to Ryan that he first identify three to five of the most pressing issues and concentrate on finding resolutions or the pathway to a remedy. Then he should work toward putting these solutions into operation with the goal of having them in place by the end of the 2012.

Any new director will have to quickly gauge where the agency is headed then shepherd it in that direction rather than charting a new course, Holdman said. Upending the entire structure and changing direction would, in his words, be fatal.

Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council and member of the study committee, also advocated the agency be proactive in addressing concerns. He advised hiring an independent management consultant to do an objective, nonpartisan assessment of the organization, including its mission, priorities, strategic direction and operations, and then provide recommendations. These would be passed along to the next governor, giving the new administration a starting point.

He does not see the problems currently plaguing the agency as being beyond solutions.

“I think there are obviously a number of issues about DCS, but my guess is that is because of the difficult subject of what they are dealing with,” Landis said. “You’re never going to get it right all the time. … I don’t think the problems are insurmountable. I think they have to do an organizational reassessment.”

Tweaking the hotline

Neither Holdman nor Noe wants to dismantle the centralized hotline and return to the previous system, but they are calling for more involvement at the local level. A key provision in their proposed legislation would provide a separate line for community professionals such as police officers, judges, prosecutors, physicians, school personnel and mental health providers to use that would give them direct contact with the local child protective services branch.

travis holdman Holdman

The centralized hotline, Noe said, brings consistency and removes the unevenness in the screening process that had arisen when calls were handled at the local level. In addition, the current single hotline collects data that can be used to spot trends and help determine where best to focus the state’s resources.

“We have increased the efficiency,” she said. “We have done it in a way some people say is ineffective. I think what we need to do is adjust to where we find the sweet spot between trying to be efficient and effective.”

Adding a local element to the hotline would reduce the workload at DCS by separating out the calls from community professionals who traditionally have a better quality of information, Holdman said. Calls that come from people in the communities who work directly with children are substantiated at a rate that exceeds 80 percent. This compares to the tips from anonymous callers that are substantiated at a 17 percent rate.

The legislative proposal by Holdman and Noe also calls for more staff at the local and state levels to handle the incoming calls. Adding more personnel would lower the amount of work each individual has and may help reduce a turnover rate that Holdman estimated equates to three to four people walking out the door every month.

In a presentation before the study committee, the DCS proposed hiring an additional 92 workers with at least one intake specialist located in every local office along with hiring another 100 new family case managers.

The decision to introduce legislation that addresses issues with the hotline was “simply a judgment call,” Noe said. Handling the changes to the hotline administratively through rules raises the potential for tweaks and modifications to be made without the Legislature being aware.

However, Landis is skeptical of imposing a legislative solution, as doing so can limit any changes the DCS may need to make to improve the system.

“It’s premature for the Legislature to say we know what the problems are and we’re going to fix them through legislation,” Landis said.

CHINS 6

The outcry over DCS providing mental health services to children reached a peak in May when Morgan Circuit Court Judge Matthew Hanson wrote a scathing opinion, characterizing the agency as “refusing to handle mental health/disease cases as they should be” and charging that the system DCS uses for reviewing and filing CHINS 6 cases is broken.

Prosecutors contend that since the Legislature took away their ability to file Child In Need of Services petitions to get minors treatment for mental health and behavioral issues, these children are landing in court where the only option is to treat them as juvenile delinquents. In addition, some parents, desperate to get their child help, are having to declare themselves to be abusive or neglectful.

DCS is launching a pilot program in Lawrenceburg to address these concerns. In a presentation to the Indiana Commission on Mental Health and Addiction, the agency outlined its plan to rely on community mental health centers to assess the child and coordinate care. For children who need services but are not covered by private insurance or are not Medicaid eligible, DCS will step in and provide the funding.

Noe, who is also the chair of the commission, applauded the plan, saying it charts a new path because the child and parents will not have to become involved with DCS to receive services. School teachers, judges and other professionals in the community, along with the parents, will be able to recommend services for the minor.

While calling it innovative, Andrew Cullen, legislative liaison at the Indiana Public Defender Council, said the DCS proposal does not go far enough. The program will never be able to compel uncooperative children to participate in their mental health treatment, he said. Only the courts can do that and, therefore, prosecutors should be again given the ability to file CHINS 6 petitions.

Noe acknowledged she has not made up her mind regarding what to do about CHINS 6 petitions. She said she wants to get all the discussion on the table then find the places of obvious agreement before making a decision.

The Indiana Commission on Mental Health and Addiction’s last scheduled meeting is Oct. 15. The DCS Interim Study Committee is scheduled to have its final meeting Oct. 25.•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

ADVERTISEMENT