DCS committee recommends hotline changes and more

A study committee was convened during the 2012 interim and charged with the task of reviewing operations of the state’s Dept. of Child Services. The committee heard extensive testimony from the agency and from the public. In addition to the official committee hearings, two public forums were hosted by members of the committee in South Bend and Evansville. Among the many complaints heard from the public, the statewide child abuse hotline, which moved all reporting from local offices to one Indianapolis-based call center, received extensive criticism.

Hotline changes: In response, the committee endorsed a recommendation to continue use of the statewide hotline for intake purposes only. The hotline would receive all calls for reporting child abuse or neglect, collect information from the caller, then send the call report to the local DCS office and let the local office make the decision on whether to investigate the report. In cases of professional reporters, such as medical personnel or school staff, all calls would be investigated. This change will be done administratively by the agency.

To facilitate the changes to the hotline and how reports are facilitated, DCS would be required to hire 50 new hotline intake specialists, 10 hotline supervisors, 80 local case managers and 16 supervisors. Legislatively, a proposal will be offered to give the agency emergency rule making powers to do so. The bill will also require that professional reporters’ calls automatically be assessed. Based on the legislative timetable and rule making requirements, the operational changes would likely take place in the fall of 2013 or by the end of the year and are expected to cost approximately $9 million. To put that cost in perspective, in just one year DCS returned over $103 million – or nearly 17% of the agency’s appropriation - back to the general fund to help build the state surplus.

The committee also endorsed the following legislative proposals to be considered by the legislature in 2013 (Download draft Committee Report>>):

DCS Oversight Committee (PD 3640): Creation of a committee to provide ongoing review of DCS operations and make recommendations for changes or improvements as needed.

Commission on Improving Status of Children (PD 3592): Creation of a new, broad-based state commission to study and evaluate state agency policy and practice as well as proposed legislation that affect the well-being and best interests of children in Indiana. The scope of the committee’s interests would be wide-reaching, including academic success, childhood poverty and hunger, child abuse and neglect, juvenile justice, and infant mortality rates. The commission would cooperate with other child related commissions, the judiciary, the executive branch, stakeholders and members of the community to develop long term plans that promote progress in areas of priority for the advancement of children.

Allowing prosecutors to file CHINS cases (PD 3325): Prosecutors would be able to request that a juvenile court authorize the filing of a petition alleging that a child is a  child in need of services. Currently, only an attorney representing DCS can make this request.

Court petitions to establish or modify custody (PD 3586): Would require that custody and guardianship orders include information if either the adult to whom custody is being ordered or the child has been the subject of a DCS investigation for child abuse. The original draft of this proposal was amended on Nov. 27 to apply when custody is established, not just modified.

The committee considered but did not endorse the following proposal. Committee members are expected to continue work on the topic, though, and offer a bill for the 2013 session.

Child fatality review teams (PD 3438): Would move the authority and administration of local child fatality review teams to the Indiana Dept. of Health and create a multidisciplinary statewide review committee. Currently, the DCS has established regions and local teams for each region. Under the proposal, all counties would be required to establish their own review team or to join with a regional team. The statewide review committee would review every child death that is sudden; unexpected; unexplained; resulted from abuse or neglect; or determine to be homicide, suicide or an accident.