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The Journal Gazette

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019 1:00 am

House backs lighter load on DCS

Would ease limits for caseworkers

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana House voted 100-0 Tuesday to ease caseload limits for state workers tasked with protecting abused and neglected children in the state.

That was a key part of House Bill 1006 – legislation with several statutory changes meant to aid the Indiana Department of Child Services. The measure went through a robust summer study committee with more than 20 hours of public testimony and an initial House committee.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon,said lawmakers wanted to give DCS a solid foundation to make it successful. The agency is also undergoing administrative changes after a rough 2017 pointed to major problems.

Previously, family case manager caseloads couldn't exceed 12 initial assessments or 17 children monitored on an ongoing basis. But the state rarely if ever met that law. A lawsuit was filed, but courts ruled they couldn't mandate the agency to take action without legislative direction.

Indiana's law was more strict than the national recommendation, which refers to no more than 17 “families” rather than children. Monitoring multiple children in the same home is easier than those in different homes.

The new caseload limits are 12 active initial assessments and 12 families in active cases receiving in-home serves or 13 children in active cases who are in out-of-home placements.

Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said it's a good bill but stressed it would have been better if Republicans had accepted a Democratic amendment last week.

That amendment would have required DCS to hire more workers if the caseload law isn't being met.

“It lacks the teeth that we believe the bill should have,” he said.

Other parts of the bill would:

• Allow an older youth who received foster care to be eligible to receive collaborative care services until age 21.

• Clarify that poverty alone is not enough to make them a child in need of services.

• Require the department to initiate an assessment immediately, but not later than two hours, after receiving a report of child abuse or neglect if the department believes the child is in immediate danger of serious bodily harm.

• Require the department to provide an initial assessment on a child within 45 days.

The latter two concepts were extended slightly because caseworkers were rushed and there were questions about quality.

nkelly@jg.net