The Indiana Department of Child Services is failing to meet state standards when it comes to caseloads for family case managers, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney has learned.
The Annual Report to the State Budget Committee, released last week, said just 3 of 19 regions (or 16 percent) were in compliance with the 12/17 standard for state fiscal year 2013.
The 12/17 standard went into effect in 2006 and says case managers are supposed to have no more than 12 active cases and 17 children monitored.
For example, the report showed Region 10 (Marion County) has 229 Family Case Managers, but still needs another 67 to come into compliance.
"You want case workers to have manageable caseloads so they can give enough attention to the cases, and they can be working with providers who are providing treatment," said Cathy Graham, executive director of IARCCA, an association of 87 agencies that provide foster care and other services to children in need. "Before (2006), the caseload had been 25 assessments and 35 children, and it was too much for case managers to handle."
Kenney found DCS will not face any sanctions for not meeting the guideline, but Graham said it could become a factor for the state in legal proceedings.
"I'm not a lawyer, I'm a social worker, but I've worked in state government, and these types of things could impact you in litigation," said Graham.
The report indicates staff turnover and an increased number of cases are to blame for the problem.
Graham said one reason is the DCS hotline, which centralized in Indianapolis in 2010, has led to increased reports of child abuse and neglect.
A DCS spokesman echoed that argument.
"Due to increased child abuse / neglect reports and cases, DCS needs to increase the number of Family Case Managers to keep caseloads in line with national child welfare best practice standards," said DCS spokesman James Wide in an email to Kenney.
The hotline received 177,382 reports during 2012, according to the report.
In its report to the State Budget Committee, DCS said to get into compliance, the state would need to hire 110 new family case manager positions.
To do so would cost an estimated $6.8 million, according to Wide.
DCS is required to provide an annual report to the State Budget Committee and Legislative Council.
State Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, pointed out DCS was already appointed an additional $35 million in the last budget.
Kenley said he has asked budget director Brian Bailey to work with DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura to examine problems such as turnover.
Because it is a non-budget legislative session, an additional DCS appropriation may have to wait until 2015.
Other options include a supplemental appropriation or a State Board of Finance transfer.
Kenley also pointed to records that show the number of DCS Family Case Managers has doubled since 2004.
In 2004, the state had 764 Family Case Managers. As of June 2013, the state had 1,833 Family Case Managers.
Director Mary Beth Bonaventura began her tenure at DCS in March 2013, and according to the report she has taken measures to address staff turnover, recruitment and training.
"Starting in SFY 2012 and continuing into SFY 2013, DCS experienced an upward trend in staff turnover, which climbed to 20.6% in November of 2012," read the report. "The top reasons influencing an FCM's decision to leave the agency were salary/benefits and family circumstances."
Starting in fall 2013, DCS implemented several measures to curb turnover, including pay raises ranging from 6 percent to 10 percent, depending on experience level.
"These increases not only demonstrated to the FCMs that the Department's leadership team values their critical contribution, but also served as an additional mechanism to retain current experienced staff," read the report.