Legislators question caseloads for child services, urge action

Some Democratic legislators are pushing for greater action by Gov. Mike Pence's administration over the Indiana Department of Child Services' failure to meet state-mandated workload standards for case managers.

Leaders of the agency told the State Budget Committee last week that only one of its 19 regions is meeting the caseload standards, which state law sets at no more than 12 initial assessments or 17 ongoing cases per worker.

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane of Anderson wrote to Pence that he's troubled the agency isn't seeking money to hire more case workers but instead planning a new study to analyze their workload on monitoring possible abuse or neglect cases.

"Commissioning a study, as the department stated they intend to do, is not enough," Lanane said. "Our state's most vulnerable deserve a guarantee that we are doing everything in our power to protect them."

Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault said Friday the governor's office was reviewing Lanane's letter and preparing a response.

DCS spokesman James Wide told The Indianapolis Star that the agency has shifted certain responsibilities from family case managers to other employees, such as answering hotline calls, licensing foster parents and supporting relatives who become caretakers.

An agency official told the budget committee it would need to add 77 employees to comply with the caseload requirements, even after hiring hundreds last year and reducing its turnover rate.

State Rep. David Niezgodski, D-South Bend, said in a letter to Pence that he was disturbed the agency feels "no pressing need" to hire caseworkers and blamed the decision on a desire to save money.

"It is part of the overriding impression a person gets that your administration really doesn't care about anything except the bottom line," Niezgodski said. "Saving lives is far more important than saving money."

Pence has frequently touted state government's $2 billion surplus at the end of the last fiscal year, and his budget agency has told department leaders to subtract 3 percent from their 2015 appropriations and identify potential cuts to offset requests for new or expanded programs.

DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura told agency employees in a video this fall that department leaders were working to find more tools for case managers, the South Bend Tribune reported.

"Although we've added these new workers, our assessments continue to grow, and we can't continue to add workers because growing our government is not a sustainable model," she said.

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