The Department of Child Services (DCS) has failed to reform itself under Governor Holcomb.
Its fatal flaw is an entrenched culture of reunification of a child with its parents, regardless of the safety of the child. A child’s safety, and the interests of safe environments created by foster and potential adoptive parents is not of importance with the current version of DCS.
Reunification of a child with the parents is a noble goal, but it must be under circumstances in which the parents have made significant changes to alleviate the previously dangerous situations which resulted in the removal of the child from their home.
The focus must be on the best interests of the child, with due process safeguards for the child’s parents.
Foster parents constantly complain about their foster children being reunited to a potentially unsafe environment of a parent, only to be returned to them again, and again.
The policy of DCS is clear – and should be followed except in extraordinary circumstances – that a petition for termination of parental rights should be filed for a child in foster care for 15 of the past 22 months. The reality is that the cases go on for many years as parents are given “one more chance” for the policy of only window dressing.
Foster parents have to go through numerous training hours to be licensed and then complete 15 hours of continuing education each year to maintain the license, yet the parents of the child who has been placed in foster care, does not have to do this, even for a period of time after a child has been returned to the parent.
As a Libertarian, I hesitate to have the State of Indiana remove a child from its home, but when the parents significantly violate the non-aggression principle (NAP)1 against their children, external involvement of a third party is warranted.
What else is wrong with DCS? For starters, it needs good technology as it still uses card files for a lot of its record keeping.
The organization is unwieldly. It needs small units of six people so that adoptions and foster care is done timely and efficiently, and not after many years. It is now organized in units of 25 or more reporting to one supervisor, so nothing gets done quickly or efficiently.
Power trips among employees seems more important than mission. It has lost its sense of its true mission.
DCS family case managers are overworked with dozens or hundreds of cases per worker. Training is inadequate. Thus turnover is high, and it results in inconsistency between the original case worker and successors. It is organized by region regardless of the number of cases and needs of the region. The result is that some regions have significantly more cases than other regions, but each region seems to get the same resources. The Marion County region is overwhelmed, to put it lightly.
What should we want for our neglected children suffering from NAP violation by their parent(s)? Foster care and adoption should provide a loving home to children in need, whether for a few hours or forever, depending on the situation. Children should not receive further neglect while in the DCS system because of its major flaws, which happens now.
What should be done about DCS?
It needs to be reorganized into smaller units that are nimble and can react quickly to the situations it faces.
Much of management needs to be replaced with managers worried about the mission, not the power they may possess.
Family case workers need to be better trained and paid more. You get good family case workers who are well-trained, well-compensated and have reasonable caseloads, and soon you have fewer employees because the work product will improve, and workers will stay.
Terri Stigdon is head of DCS. She is well meaning but feel good emails and other fluff does not change a very bad and incompetent agency. The top leadership needs to have experience reforming an organization, which sometimes takes “tough love” and a willingness to implement reform.
Indiana should investigate privatizing DCS. Many states do and do not have as severe a problem with its program as Indiana’s DCS has.
The General Assembly recently passed the Foster Parent Bill of Rights, but it is window dressing. Foster parents are often excluded from the decision-making process. Biological parents can call for Child and Family Team Meetings (CFTM) at any time and can specifically exclude foster parents, even though foster parents are the primary caregivers for their children while they are in their care.This needs to be readdressed in the General Assembly.
There are more children in foster care in Indiana than there are licensed or kinship homes with sufficient space to care for them. It is easy to understand why because only the hardiest of person will put up with DCS to give a child a loving place.