INDIANAPOLIS -- Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday that a consultant would audit the Indiana Department of Child Services following criticism by the former director that the agency was underfunded and plagued by meddling from the governor's office.
The consultant, The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, made its first visit Wednesday to state offices, Holcomb said.
"I'm going to turn this card face up," Holcomb said in an interview with CNHI News Indiana. "I want to know what the answers are because ... we found funding north of half a billion dollars, in addition to what the department had requested."
The audit can be used to compare agency costs and effectiveness with similar agencies in other states, Holcomb said. "It's not just what we're spending, it's what we're getting for that, and are we spending it in the right place so it gets to children.
"This is about the health and the welfare of the children of our state, and I don't know of anything more important for us to get right."
Support for the audit of the Department of Child Services (DCS) was echoed in both chambers Wednesday during the Indiana General Assembly's first day of the 2018 session.
"An agency that is supposed to protect the lives of at-risk children is doing a better job of putting those children's lives at risk. This cannot stand. It is time to take politics out of the system," House Minority Leader Terry Goodin, D-Austin, told legislators.
"We're talking about a system-wide failure, folks, which cannot be simply brushed aside by saying, 'Well, we gave them more money.'"
House Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, also supported the audit; both met earlier Wednesday with Holcomb and discussed the agency.
"This last budget, the Indiana Senate and House added an additional $200 million to the DCS budget," Long said. "But more important, in this past year, the first year for Gov. Holcomb, in addition to that $200 million, transferred $500 million to that department, a lot of that caused by the opioid crisis."
In Indiana, a state of 6.6 million people, 29,394 children are in child welfare programs, according to officials. Ohio and Illinois have lower percentages, they said.
"We have a department that needs to be looked at top to bottom," said State Rep. Matthew Lehman, R-Berne, who is the majority floor leader.
On Dec. 12, DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura wrote a letter of resignation stating, in part, "I am unable to protect children because of the position taken by your staff to cut funding and services to children in the midst of the opioid crisis."
Bonaventura, a former Lake County judge appointed to the DCS post in 2013, also wrote that the governor's appointed chief of staff was "bent on slashing our budget in ways that all but ensure children will die."
On Dec. 28, Holcomb named Terry Stigdon, clinical director of operations at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health in Indianapolis, to be executive director of the DCS.
The Child Welfare firm, based in Montgomery, Ala., has examined child welfare programs in 20 states. Its report on the Indiana DCS is not expected until after the 10-week General Assembly session ends.
The state previously worked with the firm beginning in 2008 under Gov. Mitch Daniels to develop a workshop to train DCS workers making home visits.