State lawmakers spent hours Thursday debating the safety of Hoosier children and the state agency tasked with protecting them, the Indiana Department of Child Services.
Much of the debate centered around the DCS Hotline, which centralized in Indianapolis in 2010, and handles 146,000 calls a year.
According to data obtained by Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney
, the average hotline phone call takes roughly 11 minutes.
DCS "screened out" 15 percent of abuse and neglect report calls as of November 2009, meaning those reports of abuse and neglect generally aren't meeting the threshold for investigation.
By November 2011, that number had risen to 39 percent, records show.
Some lawmakers and judges questioned if critical calls aren't being investigated, and they are proposing DCS return to its old system, where county departments field their own calls.
"I think we're seeing much more abuse and neglect going on, much more harm to children" said Judge Peter Nemeth of St. Joseph County Probate Court. "I think the local folks know the families much better than someone sitting in an office in Indianapolis."
"People with experience all over this state don't necessarily want to move to Indianapolis. Let's get them back in a locality where they know the resources, and they have the experience to answer," said Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville.
Riecken has proposed a full review of the hotline's assessment and referral process.
"My ultimate fear is we're going to have more children that are going to die, more children who are abused and neglected," Riecken said.
Riecken told RTV6 that DCS screened out some of the calls regarding Devin Parsons
, a 12-year-old Greensburg boy who police said was beaten to death by his mother and her boyfriend despite numerous warnings to the agency.
"I think we need to look at the manpower, the training of the folks actually doing the calls," Riecken said.
Thursday, Democrats held a news conference raising concerns about recent child deaths in the state and proposing an oversight committee for DCS.
"We're losing lives, and the taxpayers of the great state of Indiana deserve better than this," John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, said.
Bartlett also proposed involving the 92 county sheriffs in the investigation process, saying there needs to be more DCS oversight.
Democrats told RTV6 that they were dismissed by House Family and Children Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Cindy Noe, R-Indianapolis.
"I have the same concerns," Noe said. "One child dying is too many. But, I think it's going to be much more effective and efficient for a small number of legislators to sit down with DCS and say, 'How does this work?'"
Noe and other lawmakers toured the DCS hotline facility earlier this week.
"I have some questions," Noe said. "There's nothing they want more than a great hotline that works for kiddos and children and gets them out of endangered environments."
On the House floor, Noe pointed out a local director can still choose to investigate a report, even if the hotline call center weeds out the call.
"Working with DCS is somewhat different that working with other agencies, and that's because of the confidentiality," Noe said.
Lawmakers also expressed concern on the House floor Thursday about turnover with DCS case workers.
Reports obtained by RTV6 show 19 percent turnover among family case managers from November 2010 to October 2011.
Some areas reported higher turnover such as 47 percent in Marshall County, 27 percent in Marion County and 67 percent in Brown County.
Child advocates and lawmakers told RTV6 that it's better for the child's safety to have one case manager who is familiar with their case, versus several different case workers who need to get up to speed on a child's situation.
"How many children are slipping through the cracks because of this system?" asked Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis.
House Republicans released a statement to RTV6 Thursday evening showing the number of fatalities from abuse or neglect has decreased since DCS became a standalone agency in 2005.
They also emphasized the 2005 House Republican Budget doubled the amount of DCS caseworkers from 800 to 1,600, and the percent of children receiving a monthly visit by a DCS family case manager has increased from 10 percent in 2005 to 965 in 2011.
DCS declined repeated requests from RTV6 to discuss turnover and screen out issues.
RTV6 also contacted the governor's office Thursday and was told the governor was unavailable.
DCS Screen Out Rates 2009
DCS Screen Out Rates 2011
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