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Strategic planning needed to improve child services

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Years before the Department of Child Services came under scrutiny for high-profile failings of its statewide child abuse hotline, the judiciary was exploring ways to improve the entire system of juvenile justice, Indiana Justice Loretta Rush said.

Rush is a member of the DCS interim study commission and has been designated to serve on a proposed commission on improving the status of children. In an interview the day after the study panel wrapped up its work, she said its recommendation to create a commission on children represents an opportunity for stakeholders to speak with one voice.

loretta-rush-15col.jpg Justice Loretta Rush will serve on a commission on improving the status of children proposed by a DCS study panel. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“Even before the DCS study committee came about, we were thinking about working on something at the state level,” Rush said. “We need an organization that’s going to meet regularly with individuals with authority at the table so it can be productive.”

Scrutiny of DCS’s handling of hotline calls in the wake of child deaths spurred the study commission. But Rush said DCS reform efforts began in 2008 when she was among judges and court administration staff tapped by then-Chief Justice Randall Shepard to find ways to improve collaboration on juvenile issues among the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Part of the result was a National Center for State Courts analysis and strategic plan completed in March. It noted that more than 30 entities, committees or groups focus on child services in the state. “The existing committees and entities tend to focus on certain specific projects or on an

immediate need/crisis, but there are no overall strategic planning efforts,” the NCSC report said.

The NCSC recommended creation of a statewide commission on children that would bring together stakeholders. Draft legislation approved by the study commission would do just that. A separate proposed commission would have direct oversight of DCS.

Morgan Superior Judge Christopher Burnham served with Rush on the interim study committee and also was among trial court judges that Shepard tasked to study reforms in 2008. Burnham is optimistic proposed reforms will have momentum in the 2013 General Assembly.

“I think with the ideas that were put forth and the unanimity that came out of the committee as far as the legislators participating, I think there’s going to be some movement in the next session,” Burnham said.

In addition to the proposed commissions, the DCS study panel also recommended legislation and policy reforms that would:

• Route calls to the statewide child abuse hotline back to local DCS offices, where determinations will be made on necessary investigation and follow up;

• Reduce the number of hotline calls “screened out” and not referred for investigation;

• Restore the authority of prosecutors to file Child in Need of Services petitions;

• Require disclosure of DCS investigations and CHINS designations in petitions to modify visitation, custody or guardianship; and

• Localize decision-making regarding child fatality review teams.

Acting DCS Director John Ryan said in an email that the agency “will continue to work to be a resource for the legislature and the new administration as we explore the feasibility of the proposals during the 2013 General Assembly.”

Christy Denault, a spokeswoman for the transition team of Gov.-elect Mike Pence, said there would be no comment on the study commission’s proposals.

The proposed commissions on DCS oversight and improving the status of children can be successful, said interim study committee co-chair Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle.

“There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be,” Holdman said. “We have the right people on those committees. There’s been a whole new spirit of cooperation and communication (from DCS), and it’s been invaluable,” he said.

travis holdman Holdman

Study committee co-chair Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, said the theme of proposed revisions is shifting power back to local DCS offices and case workers.

“I think the public perception was this study committee was going to just be a big partisan fight,” Mahan said. “I was very pleased to see Democrats, Republicans and lay people sit on a committee where we talked about what we can do to take a system that has been improved and truly make it better.”

Holdman said Rush had been an early advocate for establishing a commission on improving the status of children in addition to a panel that would oversee DCS.

Innovative approaches to the persistent problems of child abuse and juvenile crime are likelier to happen when stakeholders from DCS, the judiciary, the Legislature, education, health care, mental health service providers and the public are involved, Rush said. The proposed 12-member commission on children would have such membership.

The commission would have a broad mandate, according to the draft legislation. It would evaluate DCS policies and practices and propose legislation on services and funding. The commission also would annually review key state rankings on a host of measures of children’s well-being. Those markers include academic success, early childhood education, childhood poverty and hunger, health, child abuse and neglect, detention rates and infant mortality.

That kind of data collection hasn’t been an emphasis in the past, Rush said.

Rush presided over a Tippecanoe Superior Court that handled juvenile and family court matters before she joined the Supreme Court in November. She made a point of making the Tippecanoe County court as open as possible. “The response is just tremendous,” she said.

People respond when they learn of the traumas children are going through in their communities, Rush said. She noted examples from her experience including a child removed from a home that contained a meth lab, and a 10-year-old who appeared in her court who was pregnant.

In Tippecanoe County, Rush said youth mentoring programs and after-school programs had made a difference, as had a community program to supply young people in need with backpacks full of food when they left school each Friday. Alternatives had reduced the population of juveniles in detention by 50 percent without increasing arrests.

“The government can’t do it alone,” she said. “It has to be communitywide and statewide.”

Rush said she doesn’t expect to actively lobby for passage of the measures that emerged from the study committee. She said her role is different.

“For me, it’s to keep shining the spotlight on youth,” she said, “and don’t accept the status quo.”•

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Kids commissions

Draft legislation emerged from the interim study commission examining issues surrounding the Indiana Department of Child Services. Below are links to two pieces of proposed legislation that would:

Create a DCS oversight committee.
http://www.in.gov/legislative/interim/committee/prelim/CSIC03.pdf

Create a commission on improving the status of children.
http://www.in.gov/legislative/interim/committee/prelim/CSIC02.pdf

Other recommendations and minutes of the study commission can be viewed at:
http://www.in.gov/legislative/interim/committee/csic.html

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  1. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  3. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

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