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Child protection measures
Lawmakers made some overdue improvements in child protection, passing bills to:
•Establish a commission to study issues and legislation regarding vulnerable children; establish local and state child fatality review panels.
•Restore authority for a county prosecutor to file for a Child In Need of Services petition.
•Allow certain officials to bypass the state child abuse reporting hotline and call directly for an investigation.
•Allocate funding for additional child protection caseworkers and improvements to the hotline.

Welcome steps to safeguard the youngest Hoosiers

Indiana legislative leaders are delighted to have delivered “the single largest tax cut” in the state’s history in their just-ended session. Here’s hoping they’ve also delivered protections for the most vulnerable of the state’s children – because the latest Indiana child fatality report suggests that on that front they were failing.

Sixty Hoosier children died at the hands of adults from July 2010 to July 2011. Those are the most recent figures available from the Department of Child Services; they represent a 60 percent increase over the previous 12 months. The increase also corresponds to a shift from reporting abuse and neglect to local authorities to reporting through a central hotline.

DCS officials say the increase isn’t related to the hotline. But dozens of people told a legislative study commission last year that the hotline was a serious problem. Indeed, 10-year-old Tramelle Sturgis died in South Bend in November 2011 after a neighbor pleaded at length on the hotline for someone to intervene because children were being beaten in the Sturgis house.

Based on the study commission’s recommendations, the General Assembly adopted some measures that should help children. They restored the authority for some local officials to directly report suspected abuse and neglect. Currently, judges with years of experience in observing juvenile cases and their underlying causes must call an 800 number to report their suspicions.

The DCS Interim Study Committee, headed by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, spent hours hearing testimony and drafting recommendations last year.

“I am very pleased with the leadership of the majority party to shepherd these bills,” said Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evans- ville, a member of the panel. “They will mean a lot to improving the structure of services to protect children.”

She expressed concern, however, that the additional money allocated for child protection was not enough and that this allocation might affect efforts to improve the problem-riddled hotline.

Budget negotiations at session’s end appeared to be a scramble to scrape together as many tax cuts as possible, including Gov. Mike Pence’s income tax cut, which will amount to about $85 per household. Abused and neglected children have no lobbyists to plead their case. The efforts of some lawmakers to ensure children are protected are welcome, but more are needed.