New program aims to help get kids out of child welfare system and into stable homes

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Child Advocates, Inc. and the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society are teaming up to help young Hoosiers involved in Child In Need of Services (CHINS) cases get out of the system and into permanent, stable homes.

Since 2014, experts say the number of children in the child welfare system has doubled. The Child Permanency Pilot Project, which will launch on December 1, will be used to help ease that burden.

“Besides the trauma of abuse and neglect, you have the trauma of the removal, then every time they’re removed again its trauma. So, what we want to do is eliminate that and shorten the time that children are in the child welfare system,” Child Advocates executive director Cindy Booth said.

Booth says the program will work to help families identify relatives or friends that could care for the child and then help them get guardianship. When guardianship is established, the CHINS would then be closed.

“We want to remove any challenges or obstacles to children getting to a safe and permanent home as soon as possible,” Booth said.

If the person identified as a suitable guardian has any legal issues in their history that may prevent them from assuming guardianship, (previous felony for example) the lawyers with the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society will work to help attain expungements for those people.

Laurie Goggins, an ILAS staff attorney, says the hope is that the program will provide a “win-win” for an overwhelmed child welfare system, but more importantly for the children that are stuck in the system.

“We can remove a long drawn out court process by finding a workable solution that we can implement quickly to get this child back on track. When these kids have the instability of not knowing what their next day or week or month may bring, and the trauma of having to go through court again, and again, and again, that prevents them from growing up the way they’re meant to,” she said.

In a statement, the Marion County Public Defender Agency, who has recently acknowledged the strain an influx of CHINS cases has put on public defenders, commended the program for removing barriers that allow relatives to assume caretaker roles. Chief Counsel Ann Sutton wrote:

“The Marion County Public Defender Agency is cautiously optimistic about this program.  It does fill a gap in services, especially when the children are unable to return to the home immediately and need a safe, familiar environment.  This program makes it easier for relatives to step in and care for the children while reunification efforts are made.  Before this program, there was a barrier to providing the ability of relatives to step up quickly and assume the caretaker role.  We believe this program, as we understand it, to be in the best interest of the children, the parents and the already overburdened system. “

A three-year, $990,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment helps to fund the program, however, both Booth and Goggins say volunteers will be needed to help fuel any success. For more information on how to volunteer with Child Advocates you can visit here

For more information on how to volunteer with the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society, you can visit here.