A proposed commission that grew from a study committee examining problems at the Department of Child Services cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Senate Bill 125 was amended to increase the number of seats on the proposed Commission on Improving the Status of Children from nine to 17, and to further spell out its powers. Justice Loretta Rush would serve as the panel’s initial chairwoman.
“When you do juvenile law you see when the system falls apart how it affects young people,” said Rush, who served as a juvenile court judge in Tippecanoe County before her appointment to the Indiana Supreme Court last year.
The panel would have broad authority including:
- Studying and evaluating access, availability, duplication, funding and barriers for services for vulnerable youth; communication, cooperation and consolidation of agencies; and implementing programs or laws;
- Establishing a DCS oversight subcommittee that will review DCS quarterly and annual reports and make recommendations to the commission; and
- Promoting information sharing concerning vulnerable youth and promoting best practices.
The Judiciary Committee passed the measure 8-0 after some discussion and further alteration of the proposed makeup of the panel. Proposed members would include four lawmakers and heads of various executive, legislative and judicial offices.
“It seems to me it’s top-heavy with, for want of a better word, bureaucrats,” said Sen. Susan Glick, R-LaGrange, who prevailed in adding a provider of foster care, residential or group home services to the commission’s proposed makeup. “Somebody who deals with children on an everyday basis needs to be at that table,” she said.
Rush said the envisioned composition of the panel represents the realization that the multiple agencies providing services “don’t know what other players are doing, and we’ve got to get that fixed.
“If we don’t have our ducks in a row at the top …I think it’s a problem,” she said. Rush said gathering results-based data on evidence-based practices would be key to improving performance at DCS. “We don’t have that clearinghouse right now.”
Bill co-author Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said the proposal would enhance positive changes already made at the agency. “It’s a new day at DCS,” he said, adding the proposed commission “gives us the ability to continue in that same vein.”
Read background on the proposal here.
The commission also moved to the full Senate on 8-0 votes these other measures:
- SB 164, which reauthorizes prosecutors to make child in need of services filings. Prosecutors had that authority until a change in the law in 2007.
- SB 6, a corrective bill that applies changes to child support and educational support statutes passed last year to paternity cases as well as dissolution orders.
On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously approved Sen. Brent Steele’s legislation that allows for more direct communication between local DCS offices and professionals who work with children. SB 105 moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.