Indiana Hires to Battle Spike in Child Abuse

     INDIANAPOLIS (CN) – On the heels of a class action, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence announced the hiring of 113 additional child-services caseworkers to battle record-breaking reports of child abuse.
     Pence’s announcement comes one day before the Department of Child Services was to present its annual report to the state budget committee, a report that last year claimed 216 additional caseworkers were needed to achieve the state-mandated children-to-worker ratio of 17-to-1.
     “This authorization for 113 more DCS caseworkers is all about putting kids first,” Pence said in a statement.
     Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the July lawsuit claims that current caseworkers are given a workload far above the desired ratio, and that children in need of protection from abuse and neglect are being denied such services.
     The staffing levels are allegedly so bad that lead plaintiff Mary Price, a case manager herself, said she was in charge of approximately 43 children.
     DCS director Mary Beth Bonaventura, who is listed by title as a defendant in the lawsuit, has also publically stated the needs of the department.
     “Children are being abused and neglected at an unprecedented rate in Indiana. In fact, from July 2014 to July 2015 the number of children entering into the DCS system has increased by 26 percent,” said Bonaventura. “There is nothing more important than keeping the children and families we serve safe, and providing the necessary support to our front-line staff is paramount to accomplishing our mission.”
     This is not the state’s or Pence’s first attempt at fixing a growing problem in Indiana.
     In the past three fiscal years the state has added 346 caseworker positions and 92 supervisor positions. But with previous efforts failing, and mounting public and legal pressures, Pence authorized further action.
     “We want to make sure that we’re not only meeting our statutory obligations, but also that we’re doing right by our kids,” Pence said. “There is simply no higher priority than the safety of the children in this state, and I am confident that by hiring these additional caseworkers, we can help ensure that our dedicated personnel at DCS are able to provide children in difficult circumstances with the time and attention they deserve.”
     Unclear on how the news affects the pending lawsuit, ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk released a statement saying, “It appears that the state is attempting to address the fact that DCS is currently failing to comply with the mandatory caseload standards that the Legislature established to protect Hoosier children. We will have to evaluate the effect of these additional positions to determine if the agency is finally able to meet its statutory mandate.”

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