Department of Child Services budget could grow significantly next year

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The Indiana Department of Child Services is requesting a 42 percent increase in its budget next year compared to the funding it was designated to receive this year in the previous budget cycle.

The proposed budget from DCS would include $965 million from the state’s general fund per year for the next two fiscal years. The last two-year budget, approved by lawmakers in 2017, appropriated $629 million for fiscal year 2018 and $679 million for fiscal year 2019, which began July 1.

But with all of the additional funding the embattled department received this year on top of its original appropriation, State Budget Director Jason Dudich said lawmakers considered the base budget for DCS to be $956 million heading into the next budget cycle, rather than using the amount approved in the previous budget.

The troubled agency received far more in the 2018 fiscal year than what was budgeted. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb redirected an additional $327.1 million to DCS after ongoing problems in Indiana's child welfare system exploded into public view in December, when former DCS director Mary Beth Bonaventura resigned.

Agency director Terry Stigdon presented the request to the State Budget Committee on Monday afternoon.

The additional $286 million per year in proposed funding is expected to help the agency address ongoing serious challenges, including a lack of trained case workers, court delays caused by a lack of experienced attorneys and lack of available substance-abuse treatment programs.

A review of the department that was released in June included recommendations on how to fix some of the issues, and Gov. Eric Holcomb has made implementing those changes among his top priorities.

The agency has already seen a significant increase in the number of family case managers—up to 2,134 as of Nov. 30 compared to 1,972 last year. And more than 200 are in training right now.

The budget increase is in line with what House Speaker Brian Bosma has previously said he was expecting to have to spend on DCS next year. Bosma has stressed that the budget will be tight because most of the state's new revenue would have to go to DCS. He had estimated it would be $275 million to $300 million.

Some lawmakers are still worried that the increase might not be enough.

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, had specific concerns about the need to attract and maintain foster parents in the system.

“We have a shortage, and they’re not getting enough money,” Tallian said. “Are we doing anything to get them some more money?”

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