In the past four years alone, the Indiana Department of Child Services has added 550 case managers and supervisors in trying to keep up with Indiana’s horrifying surge in child abuse and neglect cases. It hasn’t been enough.
Even with the additional employees and increased funding, DCS has still failed to comply — for the past six years — with a state law that requires limits on case managers’ workloads.
How far short has DCS fallen in meeting the legal standard? Case managers are supposed to handle no more than 17 ongoing cases or 12 initial assessments. Yet, case manager Mary Price, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana in a lawsuit filed against DCS, was responsible for as many as 43 cases at one time in 2015. No one handed that workload, no matter how dedicated and talented, could adequately protect vulnerable children.
Still, it’s too simplistic to blame DCS for this problem. The agency has aggressively added workers in the face of a 65 percent increase in the number of suspected abuse and neglect cases since 2010. It will use another $200 million in state funding, approved by the General Assembly and the governor, to hire even more case managers this year and next. But even that might not be enough to keep up with the need. The explosion in heroin and other opioid addictions across the state continues to strain the ability of state and local agencies, hospitals, law enforcement and nonprofits to cope with the damage. What can be done? DCS spokesman James Wide hit on the best long-term solution this week when he brought up the need to focus on prevention. The case manager system, by necessity, is set up to be reactive — investigators respond to suspected abuse and neglect. But the state and its nonprofit partners must find ways to better identify and help at-risk kids before they suffer harm.
Preventative measures must address not only abuse but drug addiction as well. Indiana is one of 16 states now receiving Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding to reduce overdoses. State leaders need to closely monitor progress on those initiatives and quickly invest more money in the efforts that show progress. Such steps not only can help ease the state’s drug abuse epidemic but also better protect kids from neglect and abuse.
Does the state need more child abuse investigators? Without doubt. But continuing to pour more and more resources on the back end of the problem without better confronting the conditions that lead to abuse will yield limited results.
We’ve tried reacting to this problem and made important but inadequate progress. We need to do a much better job of working to prevent children from ever being hurt in the first place.