2018-07-11 / Front Page

Holcomb shares report, recommendations and next steps for child services agency

June 18 Gov. Eric J. Holcomb outlined the immediate steps he will take to improve the state’s Department of Child Services (DCS)—including tapping the state’s surplus to increase support to the agency in key areas and appointing a new associate director to implement the recommendations of a just-completed agency assessment.

The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group (CWG) conducted the six-month assessment of the agency and developed 20 recommendations based on its findings. Gov. Holcomb called for this thorough review of the agency in Dec. 2017.

“I directed this assessment so we would all know where we are, where we’ve been and where we need to go,” Gov. Holcomb said. “Now, we have the assessment, and we have a strong foundation to guide us into a healthier position for Hoosier families and children.”

The governor will direct the Office of Management and Budget to make available $25 million from the state’s surplus immediately. DCS Director Terry Stigdon will develop priorities, but the governor intends to improve salaries, training and opportunities for critical, on-the-ground DCS employees who work with vulnerable children and their families every day.

Former Boone County Prosecutor Todd Meyer has been appointed by Stigdon to serve as DCS associate director. Meyer, who started with the agency today, will focus on implementing the recommendations of the CWG report. During his time as prosecutor, Meyer founded Sylvia’s Child Advocacy Center, which provides a full spectrum of care, such as prevention, intervention and follow-up, to support children in need.

“I’m honored by this opportunity to impact the lives of our most vulnerable,” Meyer said. “As a prosecutor, I worked collaboratively with the local DCS office and together we were able to tackle challenging cases. My mission in this new role is to ensure DCS implements and sustains these recommendations.”

Gov. Holcomb has asked Chief Justice Loretta Rush to work with DCS, the state’s Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana, and the courts’ Juvenile Justice Improvement Committee to review the CWG report and provide recommendations to the governor to improve court, DCS and family relationships.

The CWG report outlines 20 recommendations aligned to CWG’s findings regarding DCS’ strengths and challenges. The report identifies the following needs:

• Treat and support families struggling with substance use disorders

• Re-launch the family-centered practice model of care

• Improve coordination among state agencies that support Indiana families and children

• Refine state statute and regulations to serve Indiana families and children better and more efficiently

• Revise internal DCS policies to serve families and children better and more efficiently

• Engage stakeholders from all government branches as well as the provider community to gain important insights and guidance for improved DCS service to families and children

• Improve use of data and technology to more effectively support DCS’ mission to serve Hoosier families and ensure child safety

• Transform the culture at DCS to encourage better decision making, training, professional development and advancement— particularly for those employees working directly with vulnerable children and families

One of the main challenges in the CWG assessment includes the difficulty in recruiting and retaining qualified staff members to help Indiana’s most vulnerable children and families. DCS Director Terry Stigdon will begin retooling the agency’s review process, allowing employees to feel safe and supported while giving them more opportunities for advancement.

“There are thousands of people in this state working tirelessly to make a real difference in the lives of those who need it most,” said Stigdon. “It is our job to make sure they have everything they need to help families and communities. We have to shift the agency’s culture to provide our staff the resources they need to succeed.”

Another part of the assessment looks at the importance of recruiting and retaining foster families to provide a safe, stable and timely placement for children. DCS will begin work to make sure foster families have adequate support while also increasing efforts to add more foster families by the end of 2019. To give young adult Hoosiers in need more help, Stigdon said the agency will work to extend the age so that foster youth can receive services from 21 to 23.

These immediate actions are just the first steps in a longer process to transform the agency. Director Stigdon and Associate Director Meyer will provide a progress update on the effects of these immediate actions and will offer additional recommendations in advance of the 2019 legislative session.

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