The sad and frustrating stories shared with a committee studying the performance of Indianas child protection agency would be enough for almost any public official to demand drastic and immediate changes. But Hoosiers by now have reason to fear that any changes in protecting Indianas most vulnerable residents will be another battle with an administration claiming someone else messed up.
That was the sad reality behind Indianas welfare privatization debacle. And its playing out the same way for the Department of Child Services centralized hotline for reporting suspected abuse and neglect.
Changes appear to be inevitable, but the risk to children is too high to wait for DCS to step up with a face-saving plan. Hundreds of local child protection workers, advocates, public safety officers and judicial representatives have the experience, knowledge and ability to make immediate changes.
Put simply, the power of DCS exceeds its expertise, said Carole Davis, an Evansville child advocate, in testimony before a legislative study committee Wednesday. DCS is broken.
Statewide, local officials protested when DCS Director James Payne announced in 2010 that a centralized hotline would replace the 92 county-level systems. He cited a need for uniformity.
Among those who expressed concerns was Allen Superior Court Judge Charles F. Pratt, who pointed out that the existing system allowed judges to contact a local supervisor if a referral was not acted upon.
It becomes increasingly difficult to hold people accountable, Pratt said of the proposed hotline. You widen the crack in which people can be lost.
The judge is now a member of the study committee that heard testimony last week on the two-year-old hotline operation, including a chilling story from Fort Wayne therapist Linda Hartley. She said she called the hotline in February to report a 9-year-old girl had told her she was showering with her father and her private area hurt.
The intake worker took a sigh and said, Well, there hasnt been penetration and thats what we need, Hartley recalled. I doubt well be able to do anything.
I implore you to seriously and with your hearts take a look at what we have, Hartley told the panel.
Her story was one of just a handful of similar accounts of an unresponsive bureaucracy.
In 2006, advocates and state-worker representatives warned that the Family and Social Service Administrations $1.1 billion deal with IBM and Affiliated Computer Services was flawed. Gov. Mitch Daniels pushed ahead, and virtually all the concerns raised came to fruition before IBMs portion of the contract was canceled in 2009.
While the governor now insists that the hybrid operation that replaced it is superior to the system his administration inherited, advocates for older Hoosiers, the poor and people with disabilities say it works well only for the technologically savvy or those with relatively simple cases.
Complaints about the abuse and neglect hotline finally prompted DCS to initiate a pilot project with some improvements in the reporting process, but the call-center operation continues to have too much authority in determining which calls justify a response.
DCS officials are failing to protect Indiana children. Its time to turn to the local officials who know their communities and wont allow so many children to be lost in the crack.