The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, December 11, 2018 1:00 am

DCS calls for boost in budget

Seeking $286 million more; foster parents not addressed

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Department of Child Services needs $286 million in new funding each year of the next two-year state budget.

That was the request the agency delivered to the State Budget Committee on Monday as lawmakers prepare to write the next biennial spending plan.

That request would likely take up the majority of new tax collections expected, although the new revenue forecast won't be released until next week.

The request would continue supporting hundreds of new caseworkers added in the last few years and changes made so far in response to an agency review. But it would not increase provider reimbursement rates or payments made to foster parents.

The current fiscal year 2019 budget appropriation was originally $679 million. But administration officials transferred hundreds of millions to help the agency, which was dealing with high caseloads and turnover. Those dollars, though, were one-time commitments – sort of like when someone uses their savings to pay for ongoing expenses.

That brought spending for the agency to about $956 million this year. And they sought an additional $8.5 million for benefit and pay changes – bringing the annual ask to $965 million.

Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, questioned why the funding request didn't provide for unexpected contingencies despite dozens of changes the agency is making to improve.

DCS Director Terry Stigdon said efforts to increase staffing, ease turnover and fewer children being removed are having an impact already.

The number of assessments of children is up but the number of those required to become an open case is dropping.

And Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, pointed out Indiana has a serious shortage of foster care parents and yet nothing in the budget request would address that.

A report from this year found that child care was a major concern to foster parents in Indiana. The state provides no child care funding for foster care parents.

Stigdon said work is still ongoing regarding foster parent attraction and retention.

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