Update on DCS assessment reveals concerns about staffing, responsiveness of local offices

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A group tasked with doing a full review of Indiana’s Department of Child Services gave Hoosiers a better glimpse into the problems plaguing the agency Thursday morning.

The consultants revealed concerns about staffing, responsiveness from local DCS offices and the availability of services for substance abuse.

So far, the consultants have interviewed 141 people including judges, foster families and DCS staff.  They said they have yet to interview former DCS director Mary Beth Bonaventura, whose strongly worded resignation letter at the end of 2017 led to Governor Holcomb calling for a full review of the agency.  Members of The Child Welfare Policy and Practice group say they plan on reaching out to Bonaventura.

Some of the people CWG has interviewed expressed concerns about the number of attorneys DCS has on staff to deal with thousands of open cases. A spokesperson for the agency says there are more than 27,600 children with open cases as of Thursday.

“It’ important primarily that there be adequate, sufficient, timely representation,” said Sue Steib, an independent consultant for CWG.

FOX59 reached out to the Indiana State Department of Personnel and learned that, as of January 15, there were 163 employees classified as DCS attorneys. In 2017, 36 DCS attorneys resigned.

“One factor is just turnover,” said Paul Vincent, director of CWG.  “You’ve got vacancies. Attorneys are covering more jurisdictions. You could have continuances because they can’t be in two courts at one time.”

People Vincent and others interviewed said the issues with attorneys could block kids from getting stability in their lives.

“Vacancies with staff attorney and case loads could well be a factor but there may be others,” Vincent said. 

The group is also looking into whether the people charged with protecting the state’s most at-risk children – the case workers and supervisors – have the right qualifications.

” We are just hearing some early input that people question whether that’s sufficient preparations for the nature of the work,” Steib said. “We’ll be looking in more detail at the training they’re providing once they’re hired.”

Next up, representatives from CWG plan to shadow case workers for a week in five Indiana regions – including Marion County.