DCS Changes Child Death Review Tactics

New Law Aims To Establish Regional Review Teams

The state of Indiana is stepping up its efforts to investigate and prevent unexpected child deaths.

A new law went into effect July 1 requiring the Department of Child Services establish 18 regional review teams, consisting of more than 200 volunteers statewide.

As Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney reported in March, DCS documents showed only Marion and Lake counties currently have an official child fatality review team set up, despite a 2004 law aimed at creating a team in each county.

Previously, the teams were not required to submit any type of report, but under the new law, they must present an annual report to the State Child Fatality Review Team as well as to the Department of Child Services.

"We want to learn from child fatalities so that we can prevent fatalities from happening into the future," said John Ryan, chief of staff for the Department of Child Services. "They're more geared towards prevention, if you will."

Ryan said the agency is seeking doctors, prosecutors, law enforcement officers and other child experts to participate on the child fatality review teams.

"We need a coroner, we need a pediatrician, we need someone from the education field," Ryan said.

Some lawmakers stressed that the review teams should operate separately from DCS.

"(We want) to make sure they're operating independently of DCS, and that there's no oversight or screening of the information that comes to those review teams," said Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington.

Welch said she also has concerns about the regional approach.

"I wish it was more county by county because there are a lot of kids that die," Welch said. "I don't want one child's death to be overlooked. I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt, but we will continue to ask the hard questions."

The Department of Child Services Interim Study Committee, made up of lawmakers and other officials, will meet on Aug. 22.

According to documents obtained by RTV6, the committee is tasked with reviewing more than a dozen items, including the DCS ombudsmen, the DCS child abuse and neglect hotline and family court.

Although child fatality review teams are not specifically listed, they are also expected to be a topic of discussion.

As RTV6 reported in March, the head of the Indiana Child Fatality Review Team, Antoinette Laskey, stepped down amid concerns over how DCS handles abuse and neglect cases, saying the state was "ineffective" and was "not following best practices" when it came to abused and neglected children.

Laskey also raised concerns about the legislation creating 18 regional child fatality review teams, and said she discussed her concerns with DCS Director James Payne.

"I discussed my concerns with Director Payne, specifically that regional teams have not been shown to be effective nationally, even in counties that have very few child deaths," Laskey said in her resignation letter. "I can no longer participate in a process that is unable to work effectively in this state."

Ryan told Kenney that the agency is finalizing recommendations to the governor's office for Laskey's replacement.

Ryan said DCS officials hope to have the 18 regional child fatality review teams in place within the next two months.

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