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The Journal Gazette

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Monday, February 12, 2018 1:00 am

Editorial

More alarm bells

Numbers add to concerns about DCS

Don't worry. They're studying it.

In December, Mary Beth Bonaventura, the widely respected director of Indiana's Department of Child Services, resigned with a scathing letter warning Gov. Eric Holcomb that “lives will be lost and families ruined” if the governor didn't give the department more support.

Last month, Holcomb hired a consultant to study the department and determine whether it needs more help. After a month of work, the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group of Montgomery, Alabama, last week issued its first interim report, outlining how it plans to proceed with its investigation and noting two challenges it already has identified.

One is the number of children in out-of-home care. In December 2012, that was 8,897 children. Last December, that number had almost doubled, to 16,834.

The consultants also noted “the need for an automated data system that more readily produces management reports.” Such a system, the consultants said, would help staffers monitor their performance on “key processes and outcomes.”

Neither of these things would likely come as a surprise to the overworked DCS workers struggling with the explosion of children in need of services tied to the opioid epidemic and other types of substance abuse. In its own report last week, the Indiana Youth Institute said more than half of cases that result in children being removed from their home were caused by drug or alcohol use by parents.  

The governor's consultants plan to deliver another interim report March 1 and will issue a full report this summer.

The Indiana legislature, which is finding the time to consider the future of handgun permits and the designation of a state insect, has chosen to remain studiously silent until the consultants wrap things up. Haste makes waste, you know.

In the meantime, here is a “key process and outcome” to consider. Just-released federal figures show child deaths rose sharply in 2016, with most of the increase occurring in two states. One was Texas, where deaths rose to 217 from 162 the previous year.  The other was Indiana, where child deaths doubled – from 34 in 2015 to 70 in 2016.

Don't worry, children. They're studying it.