After the Indiana Department of Child Services made its presentation to the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, the discussion quickly turned to Child in Need of Services petitions.
Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, asked DCS Chief of Staff John Ryan if giving prosecutors the ability to file CHINS petitions is appropriate.
“It’s fine,” Ryan replied.
Senate Bill 164 would allow a prosecuting attorney to request a juvenile court to authorize the filing of a petition alleging that a child is in need of services. Prepared by the Department of Child Services Interim Study Committee, the bill has been returned to the Senate with amendments.
Ryan went on to explain that these children are not being neglected or abused, they have behavioral health problems. Prosecutors say these youngsters do not belong in the juvenile justice system, but in a care facility. He also noted that DCS is working with 25 community mental health centers around the state to provide the services needed for the children.
Ryan served as the agency’s director from September 2012 until Gov. Mike Pence appointed Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura to the post. Both Ryan and Bonaventura appeared before the Senate committee today.
Appropriations chair Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, raised concerns about giving prosecutors the ability to file CHINS petitions. Prior to DCS being established, he said, services and costs varied from county to county with some areas not having services at all.
When DCS was separated from the Family and Social Services Administration, prosecutors lost their ability to file CHINS petitions. Kenley said he is troubled that proposed legislation returning that ability gives prosecutors complete veto power over the handling of these cases.
Specifically, he said he is concerned if the DCS makes a recommendation that the prosecutor disagrees with, the prosecutor would have the sole authority to decide not to follow it and could then proceed in another way contrary to the system DCS has set up to try to handle these situations. He wants language added to the measure that would require the prosecutor to place the child back into the system of care the state has already built.
Both Ryan and Bonaventura said they would have no problem with such language.
After the hearing, Kenley said, “We’ve set up that framework and both the prosecutor and the judge have ways that they can object to a particular treatment … , but they do not have the power to take the child out of that system which we’ve set up for those services.”