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Report calls for changes to Indiana DCS

WARSAW, Ind. -- The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group released its final audit of the Indiana Department of Child Services on Monday. 

The 116-page report highlights what the agency is doing well, but also reveals DCS faces some challenges. 

Child Welfare Group spoke to more than 590 internal and external DCS stakeholders over the past six months to gather the information. 

Some key findings from the study include: 

  • As of 2017, Indiana's rate of children in out-of-home care was about 13 children for every 1,000 in the state. That number is over twice the national average. 
  • The number of court-involved cases in DCS is almost double the national average. 
  • Indiana also has a higher-than-average number of children being referred to DCS. For every 1,000 children in the state, there were about 108 cases referred to DCS. The national average is 55.6. Only three states have higher referrals for abuse and neglect. 
  • Indiana accepts more abuse and neglect reports than any other state. 

Despite the high number of assessments, Indiana only substantiated 15 percent of those assessments. 

Additionally, the rate of abuse and neglect reports grew by almost 63 percent from 2013 to 2017. 

"The key is that we are here to serve our people in the state of Indiana and now that we know what our challenges are, we are going to do better," said Child Services Director Terry Stigdon. 

The report lists the opioid epidemic as a factor for the increase in cases over the past several years. In 2017 55 percent of removals were related to substance abuse by a parent. 

Child Welfare Group also found problems with the work culture at DCS. The report said there is an uneven organizational climate and culture across counties, which contributes to low moral and could affect turnover, performance and outcomes in some offices. It also listed uneven workloads, lack of professional development and career advancement, and an uneven interpretation and implementation of policies as additional factors that affected the agency's culture. 

“We need to set the environment to ensure that they can learn in that environment as they do that work and that they’re supported," said Stigdon. 

The study does recommend 20 actions that could change the challenges DCS faces. 

Some key recommendations include: 

  • Referring families who struggle with substance abuse and mental health needs to other treatment groups before going to DCS for intervention. Additionally, the group thinks Indiana would benefit from lower rates of court involvement. 
  • Indiana should re-examine its definitions of neglect and custodian. The report recommends coming up with a more narrowly defined definition for these terms. 
  • Switch to a 24-hour response time for the initiation of child protection assessments. Extend the current 30-day assessment time to 60 days. 
  • Extend the age in which foster youth can receive services to 23.
  • Conduct an inquiry into the extent the culture is negatively impacting DCS. 

Stigdon said the department has not decided which recommendations, or how many, will be implemented. 

Additionally, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb pledged to allocate $25 million from the state's surplus fund to help DCS make those changes. 

The full report can be accessed here

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