Holcomb signs 3 DCS-related bills, 5 others await action

A bill that would have given immunity to guardians ad litem and court appointed child advocates stalled in the Indiana House, but other measures covering foster parents and placing new requirements on the Indiana Department of Child Services all passed through the Statehouse with little or no opposition.

The pieces of legislation are aimed at addressing constituents’ concerns about children in foster care and DCS practices. A total of 14 bills were introduced at the start of the 2018 session of the Indiana General Assembly. Eight were approved, with three already having been signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Following the abrupt resignation of DCS executive director Mary Beth Bonaventura, Democrats pushed for the Legislature to investigate the agency. Bonaventura left in December, accusing Holcomb of limiting the ability of DCS to provide services and putting children’s lives at risk.

Republican leadership in the Statehouse opted to hold off responding until an outside consulting group hired by Holcomb finished is review of the department.

However, several lawmakers were already crafting legislation related to DCS, children in need of services and foster parents when the DCS scandal erupted. The legislators, mostly Republicans, moved forward and introduced their bills. 

Minority leaders were not satisfied, criticizing the Republic supermajority as the session ended. Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, and Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, said the Legislature failed to pass any substantive bills that improved DCS.  

“… I remain concerned for our children that the Republicans refused all efforts to address urgent matters of child safety this session,” Lanane said in a statement. “When children are in danger, Hoosiers expect an immediate response, and that was not a majority priority this year, leaving us unable to pass any legislation until 2019.”

Democrats were successful in placing two calls for interim study committees to examine DCS issues.

Senate Resolution 14, authored by Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, urges the Legislative Council to form a two-year interim study committee to review the department and make recommendations for improvements. It was adopted on a voice vote.

Also, an amendment to House Bill 1046, offered by Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, passed on a voice vote. The provision urges the Legislative Council to have an interim study committee examine the computer system used by DCS to receive and disburse child support payments.

Since Bonaventura’s departure, Holcomb has appointed Terry Stigdon to lead DCS and hired Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group to review the department and recommend changes.

The bill that stalled, Senate Bill 130, authored by Sens. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, and Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, would have extended civil immunity to programs that help children in need.

Under the measure, when a juvenile court appointed a guardian ad litem or court appointed special advocate and the child is subsequently placed on a waiting list, the guardian ad litem and court appointed special advocate programs as well as the volunteers, employees and contract workers, would be immune from civil liability. But civil immunity would not be provided in cases of gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct.

SB 130 passed the Senate on a 40-to-0 vote. It was then assigned to the House Committee on the Judiciary, where it never received a hearing.

These DCS bills were passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor:

  • Senate Enrolled Act 184 increases the number of children a foster home may have from five to six.
  • SEA 233 requires DCS to collaborate with foster parents and child placing agencies to develop a statement of rights and responsibilities of foster parents.
  • SEA 381 designates as a child in need of services a minor who is a victim of offenses such as battery or strangulation or lives in a household with an adult convicted of a similar offense against another child in the home and is unlikely to receive the necessary care, treatment or rehabilitation without the intervention of the court.

These bills passed by the General Assembly and await the governor’s action:

  • SEA 128 requires DCS file a motion requesting a change in placement and provide notice before changing the out-of-home placement of a child who has been in one location for at least a year. Also requires the juvenile court to hold a hearing if the person with whom the child is placed filed an objection to the motion.
  • SEA 135 requires DCS notify the school if the child is removed from the home.
  • SEA 428 requires DCS to describe in a child’s case plan any efforts made to coordinate with school officials and to provide information to the court if a caregiver may have violated a dispositional order.
  • House Enrolled Act 1314 requires the State Board of Education to collaborate with departments of Education and Child Services in preparing a report on the educational outcomes of youths in foster care.
  • HEA 1406 clarifies the collection of past due annual support fees and allows for the collection of child support payments in cash and to recoup overpayment of child support. Also allows DCS to initiate an action to determine paternity.

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