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Editorials

Control at risk

Heath

When Indiana’s juvenile court officials make a recommendation for a troubled young person to be placed in a residential facility, one of five probation service consultants hired by the Department of Child Services looks at the paperwork to approve or deny the order.

The DCS consultant rules without ever hearing testimony in court; without meeting the young person affected; without speaking with the judge or probation officials who made the recommendation. In some cases, local juvenile authorities have been forced to take additional measures to ensure troubled children get the treatment they need.

“It’s time to take control of funding decisions for juvenile delinquency services away from (DCS),” writes Kaarin M. Lueck, a Wayne County public defender who writes the Indiana Juvenile Justice blog. “When all of the parties and participants – the prosecuting attorney, probation officer, defense attorney and child, parents, and judge – have sought residential placement or other services because they are very familiar with the family and the needs of the child, it is repugnant to be denied funding by a random bureaucrat somewhere.”

Lueck and other juvenile court officials and advocates want the authority for funding returned to the bench. They argue that the 2008 change in state law isn’t serving at-risk young people well. As a DCS oversight committee continues to fix problems in the state’s child protection system, it makes sense to review the agency’s role in reviewing orders in juvenile delinquency cases.

Allen Superior Court Judge Dan Heath said there have been only a handful of occasions when Allen County’s regional service consultant overruled a residential placement recommendation. The state’s requirement to first exhaust community-based resources and foster home placement has made the probation department and courts more accountable, the judge said.

But Heath acknowledged there is some concern among local juvenile magistrates that they spend time to “build a case” to gain approval for a residential placement.

“Which means that the particular juvenile involved may not be receiving the intensive therapy that local professionals thought best for that particular juvenile,” the judge said in an email. “This is a concern for the reason that the juvenile could be a harm to himself or the community without the intensive therapy.”

Heath said county officials have a good working relationship with the regional consultant, former Allen County probation officer John Michael Segyde. Now a Fort Wayne real estate agent, he has a $5,000-a-month contract with DCS to review orders for much of the eastern portion of Indiana.

But juvenile court officials in Delaware County told the Star Press in Muncie last year that 60 percent to 75 percent of the requests they made for placement in residential treatment facilities were rejected by Segyde, while orders for outpatient treatment are nearly always approved.

“I think the best government is local and that our local, county professionals will provide better services than a remote consultant reviewing the matter,” Heath said. “But we have managed, thus far, to make it work. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.”

Evidence around the state, however, suggests it’s not working everywhere. Under the new leadership of former Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura, DCS operations have been undergoing welcome review. The agency’s role in juvenile delinquency cases is one she should examine.

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