Department of Child Services reform bill passes Indiana House

The Indiana House of Representatives has unanimously signed off on a bill implementing reforms in the Indiana Department of Child Servicesa bill that is just one of several designed to assist the troubled state agency.

The House on Tuesday unanimously passed House Bill 1006, sending it to the Senate for consideration. The bill, authored by Avon Republican Greg Steuerwald, has five major provisions:

• Allowing those who received foster care to continue receiving collaborative care until their 21st birthdays;

• Setting family case manager caseload limits at 12 active cases relating to initial assessments, 12 families in active cases relating to ongoing services or 13 children in active cases relating to ongoing services who are in out-of-home placements;

• Requiring DCS to initiate an assessment within two hours of receiving a call about abuse or neglect if the department believes the child is in immediate danger of serious bodily harm;

• Requiring DCS to provide a report about an assessment or investigation within 45 days, and;

• Providing that a child in need of services is a child who is not supplied with necessary food, clothing, shelter or other basic needs when the parent/guardian is able to provide or refuses to seek the means to provide for the child.

Steuerwald told representatives on the floor Tuesday that HB 1006 was the result of 20 to 30 hours of testimony in a summer study committee. He said lawmakers acknowledged that DCS is in a tough spot, noting some testimony claimed the department took too many children out of their homes, while other claimed too few children were removed.

House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, a Fort Wayne Democrat, spoke in support of the bill, though he noted Rep. Ryan Hatfield, D-Evansville, had unsuccessfully tried to amend the legislation to give it “more teeth.” Nonetheless, GiaQuinta urged support of HB 1006 and said House Democrats would seek to amend the bill with their desired language in the Senate.

Steuerwald’s legislation is just one of several bills addressing DCS and/or the foster care system in the 2019 General Assembly. The focus on DCS this year stems partially from a June 2018 report from the Child Welfare and Policy Practice Group, which identified several shortcomings in the department’s operations.

Lawmakers plan to devote significant financial resources to DCS in the next biennial budget, which is being drafted this year, while Gov. Eric Holcomb last year allocated an additional $25 million to aid the struggling agency.

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