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DCS crisis hangs over state legislators

by SPENCER DURHAM - Chronicle-Tribune

Problems with the Indiana Department of Child Services will hang over lawmakers during the shorten legislative session that began January 3.

Mary Beth Bonaventure resigned as the longtime director of DCS in Indiana in December, penning a resignation letter that was highly critical of Gov. Eric Holcomb.

“I feel I am unable to protect children because of the position taken by your staff to cut funding and services to children in the midst of the opioid crisis,” she wrote in the Dec. 12 letter, according to the IndyStar. “I choose to resign, rather than be complicit in decreasing the safety, permanency and well-being of children who have nowhere else to turn.”

Holcomb has increased the DCS’ budget by $450 million, according to the same IndyStar report.

Local representatives wonder why Indiana has more kids in the state’s child welfare system than surrounding states. State Sen. Zay said Indiana has 29,000 DCS cases, more than double that of neighboring states Ohio and Illinois.

Speaker of the House Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long stated they do not intend to take major action regarding the crisis. This decision has been met with backlash from Democrats who have called for hearings and investigations.

Zay theorized the opioid crisis may be contributing to the DCS crisis, though other representatives doubt that the drug problem is twice as bad as other states.

Zay said he’s involved with various bills that look to help children in the system. One would allow foster families to have up to six kids. The senator said it would help keep kids together.

He said he’s also working on a bill that would require DCS to include a school in each case study. This would add a level of professional communication allowing DCS and a child’s school to more openly communicate with one another. Zay said sometimes a school is afraid to send a child home due to concern for the child’s well-being. Right now, the DCS is very private with information they divulge and the requirement would help the agency and schools work together more closely.

“The end goal is to meet the child’s needs the best,” he said.

Zay said he’s also working to address the teacher shortage and better track the flow of prescription drugs due to the opioid crisis.

The final day of the shortened session is set for March 14, however, a lack of major issues in a non-budget year may make the actual end date sometime in February.