INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Gov. Eric Holcomb on Thursday called for a “complete assessment” of
Indiana’s child welfare agency, more than a week after the agency’s outgoing
chief accused his administration of actions that “all but ensure children
In a news release,
Holcomb also announced that a Riley Children’s Hospital nurse, Terry J.
Stigdon, would replace Mary Beth Bonaventura as the director of the
Department of Child Services.
advocates were skeptical, saying Bonaventura only recently resigned and a
quick appointment by Holcomb suggests the decision was made without
conducting a thorough search.
“I’ve never heard
of her,” said Marion County juvenile court Judge Marilyn A. Moores, a
Republican who deals with DCS cases day-in day-out. “I had hoped that there
would be a nationwide search for an expert in child welfare. In the middle
of a crisis, having to train somebody from the ground up is going to be
The number of U.S.
children placed in foster care has surged as states struggle to address the
opioid epidemic and help addicted parents who can’t care for their kids. But
the problem is particularly acute in certain states, including Indiana.
increased funding for the agency by over $500 million in recent years, but
the increases belie deep cuts made to the agency roughly a decade ago.
In a scathing
resignation letter, Bonaventura accused the Republican governor’s
administration of cutting services and making management changes that
stripped her of any authority.
“I choose to
resign, rather than be complicit in decreasing the safety, permanency and
well-being of children who have nowhere else to turn,” she wrote.
Holcomb has not
addressed her specific points, but his allies say Bonaventura was a poor
manager of the DCS bureaucracy.
children’s advocates, foster parents and even the department’s own annual
report paint a grim picture of an agency in perpetual triage with a
workforce spread so thin that caseworkers have no choice but to cut corners.
Holcomb said his
administration will work with the nonprofit Child Welfare Policy and
Practice Group to conduct a review of how DCS is being operated. There are
several questions he wants to explore, including:
appropriate for staffing levels?
-Is funding being
used in the best way to “serve children and taxpayers?”
-Are DCS outcomes
“appropriate” for the services provided?
-How do child
service case outcomes in Indiana compare to other states?
The findings of the
review are expected to be forwarded to his office in spring of 2018.
announcement comes after a week of punishing headlines for the first-year
governor, who appeared to be caught flatfooted by Bonaventura’s criticism.
Bonaventura, a well-respected former Lake County juvenile judge was
appointed in 2013 by then-Gov. Mike Pence and has more than 36-years of
experience in the field.
replacement, has a master’s in nursing and is currently the clinical
director of operation at Riley, where she has worked since 1998. She started
at the hospital as a pediatric intensive care nurse.