By Amanda Creech
INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mike Pence announced on Thursday morning the Indiana Department of Child Services would add 113 additional caseworkers.
The move comes just a day before DCS will present their annual report before the state budget committee.
Gov. Mike Pence and Mary Beth Bonaventura, Director of Indiana Department of Child Services announced Thursday the state will hire 113 additional caseworkers. Photo by Braden Pelley, TheStatehouseFile.com
“I’m proud of the efforts they have made but nevertheless because we’re talking about our precious children it is important that we are continually evolving our response as the needs change across the state of Indiana,” Pence said.
Earlier this year, Pence called for the General Assembly to appropriate $7.5 million for each year of the state’s two-year budget. The money would fund 100 family case managers and 17 supervisor positions.
“Sadly, I stand here today to say that we need more,” Pence said. “Indiana’s kids need more and the Indiana Department of Child Services is in need of additional caseworkers and personnel to address a rising tide of neglect and abuse in our state.”
Pence said the number of caseloads for DCS caseworkers has risen 26 percent since this time last year and he said that number is growing.
“Last year we had 14,763 open [children in need of services] cases and this year we have 18, 621,” Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura, director of Indiana DCS said. “We realized we were going to be here asking for more staff and when I approached the governor, without hesitation it was ‘absolutely, if this is what we need to do to protect children.’”
Pence said it is estimated that an additional $7.2 million will be needed to hire the 113 new caseworkers. But Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said this is only the beginning for caseworker hiring.
Mary Beth Bonaventura, Director of Indiana Department of Child Services talks about the department adding 113 more case workers at a press conference Thursday. Photo by Braden Pelley, TheStatehouseFile.com
“There are still areas of the state where significant gaps exist, where family case managers are handling many times the number of cases legally permitted under the law,” Lanane said in a statement. “This is encouraging progress, but we have a long way to go.”
Pence said they will be detailing where the $7.2 million will be coming from in the “coming days.”
“These men and women and those they represent are some of the most dedicated public servants in the state of Indiana. They have an incredibly difficult job,” Pence said. “We want to make sure that we’re not only meeting our statutory obligations but that we’re meeting a moral obligation that the men and women who are willing to step forward to answer a call to come alongside kids in Indiana have the resources and the training and the broad support in the organization to do that job and to do it effectively.”
In July, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of DCS caseworker Mary Price, who according to the suit, had more than twice the legal limit of cases under her supervision.
A spokesperson for the ACLU said the organization would take a look at what the additional workers will mean for DCS employees and Indiana children.
“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,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “We will have to evaluate the effect of these additional positions to determine if the agency is finally able to meet its statutory mandate.”
Bonaventura said DCS has taken steps to help support the staff by providing them and their families with access to a therapist and a critical response team in case something happens in the workplace. DCS also hired a recruiter to find talent for being a case manager.
Amanda Creech is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.