The Indiana Legislature has backed a measure that would create a new state commission to focus on children's issues and provide oversight to a troubled state agency.
The bill sponsored by Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, would create the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana. The Indiana House passed the bill Tuesday, and it now awaits the signature of Gov. Mike Pence.
Broden told the South Bend Tribune for a Saturday story that the commission is part of an effort to boost oversight of the state's troubled Department of Child Services. That agency has been roiled by investigations into its handling of abuse and neglect cases following the deaths of several children in troubled homes. The DCS also has had high turnover among its caseworkers.
Broden said he's excited by his bill's final passage.
"It's a key step in our efforts to oversee" the DCS, he said.
A study committee formed amid concerns about Indiana's at-risk children drafted several ideas last summer for boosting oversight of the DCS.
Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, who served on that summer study committee, said the legislation helps realize that panel's objectives.
"The goals were to provide more protection for children," he said. "We didn't think DCS was getting the job done."
Broden said the bill authorizing the new commission combines ideas from several different bills. A separate Senate bill originally included a Department of Child Services Oversight Committee, but the bill that passed the House puts that committee under the umbrella of the new commission.
"One of the most critical things was the perception that for DCS there was no oversight," he said. Broden added that the new commission, with mandatory involvement and meetings, "gives families and those involved with DCS confidence that there is someone watching what is going on."
One of the new commission's functions will be studying the 31 agencies, groups, organizations and other offices in the state that deal with children's issues to determine how to consolidate or otherwise improve their functions.
The bill would also create a child fatality review committee in each Indiana county.
Incoming DCS director Mary Beth Bonaventura, a Lake County juvenile court judge, plans to visit all 92 Indiana counties.
Yoder said he also hopes the DCS will hire additional staff. The agency may see up to an additional $40 million in funding under the current version of the state's budget.
"People need to understand that these are vulnerable kids in our community," he said. "They might not be your children, but they could be your neighbor. Ultimately, it's up to DCS to find these kids and protect them."