Gov. Mike Pence named Lake Superior Juvenile Senior Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura as director of the Department of Child Services Wednesday.
Bonaventura has been involved with juvenile courts since 1982, when she began working in the court as a magistrate. She established and served as executive advisor for the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program in 1986. She was appointed judge in Lake Superior Court in 1993 after having served more than a decade as a magistrate in juvenile court.
She currently serves on the Juvenile Justice Improvement Committee and is a member of the board of managers for the Indiana Judges Association. She served as chair of various juvenile-relate groups, including the Child Welfare Improvement Committee.
She may be familiar to some for her role in several documentaries about juvenile court filmed by Karen Grau, which aired on MTV and MSNBC. The Indiana Supreme Court granted Grau access to Bonaventura’s court.
"Judge Bonaventura is uniquely qualified to lead the state's Department of Child Services and help to protect Hoosier children from abuse and neglect," Pence said in a statement. "She is a strong leader who has an impeccable reputation of integrity and compassion for children."
The lifelong Lake County resident takes over as head of DCS following the resignation of director James Payne, a former Marion County juvenile judge, in September 2012 after news reports raised questions about his involvement in DCS actions pertaining to his grandchildren. The DCS has been the focus of news outlets and legislators recently after claims that several children died despite being reported to the agency as abused or neglected, for its decision to use a centralized reporting hotline, and how it has handled children with mental health issues.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R- Fort Wayne, said in a statement “no one in this state understands the intricacies of child welfare better than Judge Bonaventura, making her the perfect choice to lead DCS.”
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R- Indianapolis, said in a release that the judge will be leading the charge on one of the most crucial and sensitive issues in our state. “It is imperative for the Department of Child Services to have a fresh viewpoint overseeing the agency as we move forward with the many positive changes to best serve Hoosier children.”
There have been several bills introduced this session addressing DCS, including the creation of a committee on child services oversight and the ability for law enforcement and others to contact a local office of the DCS to report suspected abuse or neglect.