(INDIANAPOLIS) - For the first time, the Department of Child Services Interim Study Committee met Wednesday in an attempt to address issues within DCS.
The committee, made up of lawmakers, judges and community leaders, is expected to meet at least four more times at the statehouse, but Democrats on the committee are calling for some of the meetings to be held outside of Indianapolis.
"The meetings, even though they're already scheduled, should go beyond the walls of the statehouse and beyond 1 p.m. in the afternoon," said Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis. "We believe we need to go see the people."
Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, co-chairman of the committee, said he was open to the idea.
One of the most contentious issues facing the committee is the child abuse hotline, which centralized in Indianapolis two years ago.
An informal report released by State Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, shows letters from law enforcement and judges across the state who have had problems with the child abuse hotline.
"When our officers call the hotline, we are asked questions that we cannot possibly have answers to while we are in the middle of a crisis on scene," wrote Sgt. Deborah Borchelt of the Gibson County Sheriff's Office. "We have had multiple experiences where immediate assistance is requested and it takes over an hour and multiple calls before a local caseworker makes contact."
"After I read that report, I realized how widespread the concern is about the hotline," said Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson.
Cindy Booth, director of Child Advocates, an agency representing Hoosier foster children, said colleagues around the state have shared concerns about the hotline.
"They say that knowledge and experience has been lost with a centralized 1-800 number," said Booth. "I think that's one of the reasons we have to see what the study committee comes up with."
DCS officials admit there are concerns about the location of the hotline staff, wait times and law enforcement not being able to contact the local office directly even if they need an immediate response.
"The hotline, it is something we need to look at seriously," said John Ryan, DCS Chief of Staff. "We intend to listen and, in fact, learn from all that is said."
As the Call 6 Investigators reported, DCS "screened out" 15 percent of abuse and neglect report calls as of November 2009, meaning those reports of abuse and neglect generally aren't meeting the threshold for investigation.
By November 2011, that number had risen to 39 percent, records show.
The legislative committee also began looking at case manager turnover, addressed by the Call 6 Investigators.
New statistics reveal turnover is on the rise for family case managers at the Indiana Department of Child Services.
Documents just released shows a 21.5 percent average turnover rate for the state from July 2011 to June 2012, an increase from 20.7 percent turnover in the July 2010 to June 2011 time frame.
At the DCS Child Abuse Hotline, based in downtown Indianapolis, the turnover rate is at 50 percent.
In DCS's annual report just released for fiscal year 2012, the agency blamed compensation, stress and media scrutiny for the turnover increase.
At Wednesday's hearing, DCS Human Resources Director Doris Tolliver told the committee they are closely monitoring and working to improve case manager turnover.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told RTV6 changes will be coming to the hotline and DCS.
"You can always get better. We'll always strive for that elusive zero, not a single child in Indiana is harmed," said Daniels.
The interim study committee will meet Sept. 5 to discuss the child abuse hotline.
They will discuss other issues on Sept. 24, Oct. 11 and Oct. 25, and may hold more meetings after that.
Wednesday's meeting lasted more than four hours, with the bulk of it coming from a presentation from DCS officials.
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