TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb is directing $25 million from the state's surplus be used to improve the Department of Child Services.
The decision was announced Monday after results of a six month assessment of the program were presented in Indianapolis.
The 116 page report details the strengths and weaknesses within the Indiana Department of Child Services. Governor Eric Holcomb asked for the research late last year. The Alabama-based nonprofit Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group (CWG) conducted the study.
Governor Holcomb says, “I directed this assessment so we would all know where we are, where we’ve been and where we need to go. Now, we have the assessment, and we have a strong foundation to guide us into a healthier position for Hoosier families and children.”
The assessment reveals what researchers call a culture of fear. It also shows the number of children in the system is up sixty-three percent from five years ago.
The report found nearly forty-five percent of DCS workers have too many cases and they interpret and enforce policies differently.
CWG made twenty recommendations for DCS. They include better treating families struggling with addiction, improving coordination between state agencies and transforming DCS culture.
DCS Director Terry Stigdon says, "Changing the culture starts with me. I was met with total transparency from the team and ability to find out what we need to do to change the culture of fear."
Governor Holcomb says he wants to increase salaries and training for DCS staff working directly with children each day. He is directing the Office of Management and Budget make available $25 million from the state's surplus to get this done.
Wabash Valley foster mom and Indiana Foster and Adoptive Parents CEO Kristi Cundiff was in Indianapolis when the results of the research were released.
Cundiff says, "I think that that's a good first step for the governor. I would like to see some of that money put toward childcare funding. I think that was overshadowed in the report."
Cundiff says she was not surprised by much of the report. She says she had hoped more would be said about the role of foster parents and what can be done to assist them in raising Hoosier kids.
Part of the report points to the need for more foster parents. DCS is tasked with providing support to those families. Some of the recommendations include retaining more foster parents and extending the age foster children can receive services.
Director Stigdon is sharing report results with the public. She stopped in Vincennes, after the initial release, to answer questions. She says she will give an update on how these changes are impacting children and what additional changes may be needed before the 2019 legislative session.
Cundiff says she's hopeful the governor and DCS director will follow through with the plan.
"An assessment is only as good as the action that follows it."
To view a full copy of the CWG report, please click here.
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