Child services agency exceeding caseload standard

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Leaders of Indiana's Department of Child Services say it isn't meeting state-mandated caseload standards but aren't asking for money to hire more child welfare workers.

Doris Tolliver, the agency's chief of staff, told the State Budget Committee on Wednesday that only one of its 19 regions is meeting the workload standards for case workers. State law requires the department's family case managers to average no more than 12 initial assessments or 17 ongoing cases per worker.

Tolliver said the agency would need to add 77 employees to comply with those caseload requirements, even after hiring hundreds last year and reducing its turnover rate, The Indianapolis Star and the Journal Gazette reported.

Department Director Mary Beth Bonaventura said the agency will first hire a consultant to analyze the workload. That analysis could raise or lower the standard.

The agency's last analysis was five or six years ago, and case managers' functions and responsibilities have changed, Bonaventura said.

"For us to just keep using a standard that might be outdated or obsolete isn't being good stewards of the public's money," she said. "We want to make sure whatever steps we take in asking for more employees, we have actually done our homework to make sure that we know we are doing the right thing."

Critics say children are being put at risk because agency workers are assigned too many cases to properly monitor possible abuse or neglect. Two employees filed a federal lawsuit against the department in August, saying they have not received required payment for extensive overtime.

Agency officials said the only added funding they'll seek in the new two-year state budget will be about $22 million to pay state adoption subsidies for special-needs children that were the subject of a lawsuit.

Bonaventura said the agency has been working through a waiting list of 1,800 people for current subsidies and has sent payments to more than 600 families. Some children on the waiting list have aged out of the program.

Budget committee member Rep. Sheila Klinker, D-Lafayette, said she was glad to see the subsidy program restored and that she was "sorry it took a lawsuit" to make it happen.

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