UPDATE: Indiana child welfare chief pens scathing resignation letter

December 18, 2017

The head of Indiana's child welfare agency told the governor in a scathing letter that she is quitting because his administration's funding cuts and changes to her agency had made it impossible to adequately protect the state's most vulnerable kids.

Mary Beth Bonaventura, who's stepping down Dec. 27 after five years as director of the Indiana Department of Child Services, warned in last week's resignation letter to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb that a continuation of his administration's policies will "all but ensure children will die."

Holcomb's office did not immediately reply to Monday requests for a response to Bonaventura's letter, which was obtained by The Indianapolis Star.
In a statement Friday announcing her resignation, Holcomb said he was grateful for Bonaventura's service and said she had demonstrated an "unwavering commitment to keeping Hoosier children safe" as the agency's chief.

But in her resignation letter, Bonaventura said the administration is cutting her budget and services amid Indiana's opioid abuse crisis, and she could no longer in good conscience stand by and watch Indiana children "being systemically placed at risk, without the ability to help them."

"I choose to resign, rather than be complicit in decreasing the safety, permanency and well-being of children who have nowhere else to turn," she wrote.

Bonaventura, a former Lake County juvenile court judge who has worked in child welfare for 36 years, was named DCS director in January 2013 by then-Gov. Mike Pence. She took over an agency roiled by news investigations into its handling of abuse and neglect cases after several children died in troubled homes that had been reported to the agency.

In her resignation letter, Bonaventura outlined four reasons she believes the state is threatening children's lives.

First, she said Holcomb's office has stripped her of the power to run the agency, making Eric Miller her chief of staff even though he has no child welfare experience. She wrote that Miller has used the position to make his own hires, bully subordinates, expose the agency to lawsuits, override her decisions and be "brazenly insubordinate," making cost-cutting decisions without her knowledge.

She said she has repeatedly tried to secure additional funding, but Miller is "bent on slashing our budget in ways that all but ensure children will die."

Miller didn't immediately reply to messages seeking comment that were left Monday at his and the governor's offices.

Bonaventura wrote that the second way the state is threatening children's lives is by jeopardizing the relationship she's built with child welfare providers and the work DCS been trying to do to update its rates and licensing.

The third reason is that DCS' Child Support Bureau is "on the verge of collapse due to antiquated technology," which she said would affect prosecutors and every parent who receives or pays child support.

Finally, Bonaventura warned that efforts by Holcomb's office to reduce or cap staffing levels of family case managers and child welfare attorneys "will lead to disastrous results."

She said a plan to reduce contract amounts with providers by nearly $15 million will leave more than 1,000 families without appropriate court-ordered services, and that Holcomb's office allowed DCS to request only a fraction of the funding and staffing needed to protect kids.


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