Chesterton Tribune

Indiana child services agency plans spending boost

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KEN KUSMER,

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indiana Department of Child Services expects to serve more than 11,000 additional families each year by adding a total of $47.8 million over three years to new and existing programs Wednesday while lawmakers prepare to examine the operations of the often-criticized agency.

The agency said it was reallocating from its general fund $12.6 million in each of the next three years to five programs and spending $10 million on a new program offering housing and educational options for children who leave foster care after they turn 18.

Gov. Mitch Daniels tells agencies not to spend all of their budgets in case of budget shortfalls that require them to send money back to the general fund. But agency spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland said Daniels this year required state agencies to revert only 3 percent of their budgets this year, down from 15 percent required a year ago. The current state fiscal year ends Saturday, and McFarland said the department would return about $16 million to the states general fund, compared with $104 million last year.

Department Chief of Staff John Ryan said the agency has been able to meet the needs of the families it serves despite deep cuts in funding in recent years.

"We believe that the families have received adequate services," he said.

However, others have criticized the agency for not doing more to protect children from abuse and neglect. A legislative study committee is expected to scrutinize the agencys operations in the coming months.

The agency said the reallocated funds will expand services to families that have open cases with the agency and continue services for some families after their cases have closed. Funding also will cover prevention services for some families who face crises or circumstances that could put them at risk.

The funds reallocated over the next three years, and the estimated number of families who will benefit, include:

$5.3 million per year to support 5,300 families who need help providing safe and stable environments for their children.

$2 million per year to provide services to 450 high risk families with children under age 3.

$2 million per year for 2,700 households in which relatives care for children removed from their homes.

$1.3 million per year to 2,600 families that need basic services such as food and shelter before they receives other services later, such as therapy and domestic violence services.

$2 million per year on a new program to provide services to 850 families for six months after their cases close.

Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville and a member of the legislative panel that will examine the agency, said it should have used some of the reallocated funds to address criticisms of their centralized child abuse hotline and to provide mental health treatment for youths considered dangerous to themselves or others.

"They missed an opportunity," Riecken said.

The legislative panel was created by the General Assembly in the wake of newspaper investigations exposing problems with the agencys ability to protect children.

The Indianapolis Star reported in January that the agency received allegations of neglect and abuse against six Indiana children last year before each child died. The South Bend Tribune reported in March that an anonymous caller to the agencys child abuse hotline pleaded for 20 minutes for someone to check on conditions in a home six months before a boy living there was tortured to death. Also in March, the leader of a state team investigating child deaths resigned, saying issues within the agency make it impossible to do her job.

The agency last month restored about $10 million in funding to boost in-home programs and services, three years after asking providers of those services to cut their rates by 10 percent.

 

Posted 6/28/2012