Indiana Statehouse. (WISH photo)
Updated: Wednesday, 23 Jan 2013, 1:58 PM EST
Published : Wednesday, 23 Jan 2013, 1:09 PM EST
INDIANAPOLIS (WTHI) - A proposal to increase staff at Indiana's Department of Child Services and upgrade its embattled child abuse hotline cleared its first hurdle at the Statehouse Wednesday. The changes follow a series of complaints documented by I-Team 8.
The hotline first came under fire last summer. Many told lawmakers they thought DCS hotline was failing children. During interim study committee hearings held last year, parents, providers and others told stories of long wait times, unprofessional operators and cases that were ignored. The testimony resulted in the debate of more than 40 recommendations from the committee, including improvements to the hotline.
The proposed fixes were rolled into HB 1142 and assigned to the House Committee on Family, Children and Human Affairs. Members approved the bill by a 12-0 vote on Wednesday.
Under it, all calls would continue to go to the central hotline in Indianapolis, but the call center would add 50 new intake specialists and 10 new supervisors. DCS says the additions would reduce hold times on the hotline, allow it more flexibility with operators, and reduce high rates of turnover among them. All reports from professionals would also be received through the hotline, but would then be assessed by 80 new local family case managers and 16 new supervisors.
That will result in at least 15,000 more full assessments each year, DCS said.
"What we're talking about a lot is returning some of the local control back to each of the counties,” Rep. Kevin Mahan (R-Hartford City), the bill’s co-author, said following the vote. “And, that's what this bill is also going to do. The calls that do come into the call center, those are going to be funneled at the local level."
The total cost of the plan is around $9 million per year, according to legislative analysts. The bill will now move to the House Ways and Means Committee, who will be tasked with finding funding for it.
Mahan says he believes the changes will be a high priority for lawmakers and for Gov. Mike Pence.
“The [Governor] talked about the need for this [in his state of the state address]. I certainly hope that will help. When you look at the fact that this has been so highly publicized and talked about, there was a lot of time and effort that went into this meeting. This wasn't something that was just shooting from the hip,” Mahan said.
Separate bills that would create a permanent, 11-member DCS oversight committee, expand existing child fatality review teams at the state and regional levels, and increase access to provider services have been filed, but have not yet been heard in committee.
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