In a viewpoint in the Chicago Tribune, Mary Beth Bonaventura, director of the Indiana Department of Child Services, writes about the agency’s determination to “bring help and hope to every child and family affected by the tragedy of child abuse — and to implement prevention efforts aimed at turning this discouraging statistical tide.”
That’s why it’s so heartbreaking to read statistics showing child abuse and neglect cases rising across the United States. Unfortunately, Indiana is not immune from such trends. Here at DCS, we received more than 198,000 reports of child abuse or neglect in 2014.
We are determined to bring help and hope to every child and family affected by the tragedy of child abuse — and to implement prevention efforts aimed at turning this discouraging statistical tide.
Our staff works in the trenches every day, looking into the faces of children and families in crisis. Our family case managers bring care, compassion and skill to their mission.
But there is more work to be done, and so this year, we are adding staff, improving organizational efficiencies, increasing training opportunities for our staff and expanding our use of data.
Earlier this year, Gov. Mike Pence called for an additional $7.5 million to enable DCS to add 100 family case managers and 17 supervisors. The Indiana General Assembly passed this as part of the biennial budget bill, and the governor recently signed it into law.
In training family case managers, we want to enable them to spend more time in the field, practicing and reinforcing skills learned in classroom sessions. We want to better prepare supervisors to help retain and support case managers in order to reduce turnover and increase stability.
As family case managers perform their job duties on the front lines, staff members behind the scenes are working to improve our agency’s efficiency.
The alarming rate of child abuse and neglect affects the entire child welfare system, including courts, law enforcement, foster care and children’s services. However, the increased number of children coming into the child welfare system will not distract our case managers from realizing the difference they make in the lives of Hoosier children and families.
Child welfare leaders across the country are pointing to Indiana’s progress in achieving positive outcomes for children, youth and families.
Other states want to know how we created a centralized hotline that has received more than 198,000 reports of child abuse and neglect yet has an average answer time of less than 20 seconds.
They want to know how our Child Support Bureau ranks in the top 10 nationally — after being ranked 35th as recently as 2006 — while processing nearly $1 billion in child support payments annually.
They ask how we collaborate across state agencies to create a program like the Children’s Mental Health Initiative, which provides services to children and families in crisis without the need of court intervention.
And they want to know how we have implemented a program such as Collaborative Care, a program that focuses on the specific needs of older youth in foster care. Recently, I was given the honor and privilege of presenting the Collaborative Care program to other child welfare leaders from across the nation at the White House.
When it comes to innovations and improvements regarding the safety and protection of children, Indiana is a leader.
Children thrive in safe, caring, supportive families and communities, and we aim to give every child the opportunity to grow and succeed in these kinds of environments.
Make no mistake, though, there are opportunities for DCS to improve. And daily we welcome that challenge.
From my experience in interacting with other child welfare leaders across the country, the support Governor Pence provides Hoosier children and families is unparalleled. I am proud to serve with him and an amazing team of dedicated child welfare professionals that are protecting children from abuse and neglect, and ensuring their financial support.