Parents, judge say they’re seeing shortage of DCS attorneys

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HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. - A thorough review of Indiana's Department of Child Services is currently underway and the group conducting the assessment say there are concerns about the number of attorneys employed by the troubled agency.

On Thursday, the Child Welfare Policy and Practice group said they have already interview more than 140 people. They say interviewees suggested there are not enough DCS attorneys to handle an increasing number of cases.

Parents and a juvenile judge say they're seeing a DCS attorney shortage around the state.

One Hancock County mother said she adopted her foster son after he was in her care for four years.

"At one point in time, we were just waiting to file the termination for the parents because there was not an attorney in Hancock [County[ at the time to file it," said the mother, who asked to remain anonymous because she is fostering other children.

She also said attorney turnover at DCS presented another obstacle.

"We had three or four attorneys in four years," she said. "You can’t even learn that case. It’s constantly turning over."

FOX 59 looked into the number and found 36 Indiana DCS attorneys resigned in 2017. 38 attorneys resigned in 2016.

"I think there is a shortage," said Judge George Pancol, who presides over juvenile court in Madison County.  "We certainly have had a lot of turnover in the last couple of years with our attorneys."

Pancol said  he sees between 30 and 40 hearings each week.

"Because of the number of CHINS cases that we have, we have increased from two DCS attorneys to four DCS attorneys right now," Pancol said. "I think we have three DCS attorneys and a regional supervisor who assists. So, we may be one short. The attorneys that we do have, have been very efficient I’m sure work overtime to make sure there are no undue delays in the system."

The judge says compensation may be partly to blame for the turnover with attorneys leaving to take higher paying jobs. According to the Indiana State Personnel Department, the average salary for a DCS attorney is $56,000 a year.

"Of course [that] results in us having to replace those attorneys on a fairly regular basis," Pancol said.

Pancol said he has not seen any cases in Madison County be delayed because of a shortage of DCS attorneys.

But several parents who have adopted children from foster care say this was an issue.

The group doing the DCS assessment says a shortage of attorneys has been the top obstacle to placing foster children in permanent homes in other states. It's still not clear if that's the case in Indiana.