Pledging this is the start of a new day for the Indiana Department of Child Services, Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday outlined changes his administration is implementing to improve the troubled state agency and announced that he is dipping into the state surplus to provide another $25 million to boost salaries and transform the workplace culture.
Holcomb spoke at the unveiling of a 116-page evaluation of DCS by the Alabama-based Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group. The nonprofit was hired to assess the state agency after former executive director Mary Beth Bonaventura abruptly resigned in December 2017 and accused the governor of putting children’s lives at risk.
Speaking to a crowd that included DCS workers, service providers and legislators, Holcomb said about half of the recommendations in the CWG report were mentioned in five previous evaluations done in recent years by other groups.
“The difference, of course, is today we are going to begin to implement many of those recommendations,” he said. “So we’ll reduce the staff turnover rate which is about 30 percent. We’ll provide support for foster families so another 1,800 don’t give up their licenses. We will get to the bottom of the why the rate of Hoosier children in out-of-home care has more than doubled in the last five years.”
Paul Vincent of CWG presented the highlights of the report and noted Indiana has a very high rate of children in out-of-home care compared to the surrounding states and nationally.
The report found that Indiana’s rate of children in care is 13 per 1,000 children — more than twice the national average of 5.6. The state’s rate of children entering care is 8 per 1,000 children compared with the national rate of 3.6.
Holcomb received loud applause when he announced the infusion of $25 million. He said the money will go partly toward boosting staff salaries. “We have to reinvest, we have to reinvigorate the child services staff,” Holcomb said.
He also said the transformation of DCS would have to include an improvement in the workplace from a “culture of fear” to one of more decentralized decision-making and better support for foster families. In addition, he said his administration will be using the report to develop its legislative proposals for the 2019 session of the Indiana General Assembly.
“These changes must be put into motion and they will be,” Holcomb said. “Believe me, I fully realize with the change there will be some difficulty because it’s going to be a different approach, but we have to take a different approach it we want to realize different results. That starts today.”