Committee recommends changes to DCS hotline

Changes could cost $9M

INDIANAPOLIS - Significant changes could be on the way for the state agency tasked with keeping Hoosier children safe -- the Indiana Department of Child Services.

After months of meetings, the DCS Interim Study Committee held its final meeting Tuesday and offered a slew of recommendations, including several pieces of legislation.

The committee is made up of lawmakers, judges and other child advocates convened to improve DCS.

Perhaps the committee's biggest task was to improve the child abuse and neglect hotline, which centralized in Indianapolis in 2010.

As the Call 6 Investigators have reported, the hotline has faced criticism for high staff turnover, long hold times and a lack of input from county offices.

"The locals across the state of Indiana were crying out for returning that local control," said co-chair of the committee Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City. "I think what we had with the committee today was a unanimous decision."

The committee voted that the local offices should determine whether an abuse or neglect report should be investigated.

Many have criticized the current system in which hotline workers in Indianapolis "screen out" abuse and neglect calls.

In an effort to reduce staff turnover at the hotline, the committee also recommended hiring 50 intake specialists and 10 supervisors.

The plan also calls for adding 80 new family case managers and 16 supervisors to the field, which would result in approximately 15,000 more assessments every year.

The estimated price tag is $9 million.

Assuming the legislature votes in favor of the proposed changes to DCS, the expenditure would also have to be approved by lawmakers through the budget process next year.

"Certainly it's going to be interesting," said Mahan. "We're going to have to go talk to Representative Brown, and hopefully we have the funds to do that."

DCS Director John Ryan said the agency can't even start hiring until April when the legislature wraps.

"We have to have the appropriation to hire," Ryan said. "You have to have the funds to do that. And we won't be able to do that until the legislature approves our budget."

Ryan said he is pleased by the hard work carried out by the committee.

"There were  a lot of good ideas and concepts that have come out of this committee," said Ryan, who pointed out DCS is already in the process of making changes to the hotline including hiring 200 new case managers and supervisors.

Ryan said those hires had already been budgeted for.

The committee also approved legislation aimed at improving state and local child fatality review teams, following criticism of the team and the resignation of the team's leader.

They also voted to create a DCS Oversight Committee, an idea child advocates say is a good one.

"The oversight committee will keep the work going and have a forum where people work together and collaborate on issues," said Cathy Graham, executive director of IARCCA.

The oversight committee would review monthly and annual reports from DCS and make legislative and administrative recommendations to improve child services in Indiana.

Mahan told Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney Hoosier children will be safer because of the committee's actions.

"Certainly that is our goal," said Mahan.

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