The Department of Child Services delivered its annual report to the State Budget Committee in Lafayette on Friday. The presentation comes amid recent developments, including an announcement that the Department would hire 113 additional family case managers to meet the rising tide of abuse and neglect among Indiana’s most vulnerable children and that the agency remains out of compliance with state law mandating caseload limits in 18 of DCS’s 19 geographical regions.
Struggling to meet the demand
In November 2014 DCS reported that the agency was out of compliance with state law requiring family case managers to maintain caseloads of no more than 12 investigations into child abuse and neglect and 17 ongoing cases in 18 of DCS’s 19 geographical regions. Senate Democrats have maintained that higher than legally-permitted caseloads put an unneeded burden on family case managers (FCM) already grappling with difficult responsibilities.
Since then, the agency has worked closely with Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane and members of the Senate Democratic Caucus to address concerns. Those efforts included the hiring of 100 additional case managers at the end of the 2015 legislative session and ongoing face-to-face meetings with key Department staff on needed structural reforms.
Rising reports of child abuse and neglect
The agency and its case managers continue to face mounting reports of child abuse and neglect. In 2009, DCS detailed 109,489 reports of alleged child and abuse. That number rose to 187,475 in 2013, an increase of 71 percent. In 2014, DCS’s centralized hotline received 198,684 allegations of child abuse or neglect, an increase of 5.9 percent from 2013.
In their Budget Committee report, DCS officials noted that the number of investigative and ongoing cases family case managers are handling jumped dramatically. At the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, DCS had 21,891 ongoing cases compared to 17,471 at the end of FY2014, an increase of 25.2 percent.
As a result of rising caseloads and staffing shortfalls, DCS continues to fail to comply with state law in 18 of the 19 geographical regions.
DCS leadership also reported an increase in negative staff turnover – the percentage of family case managers leaving the agency entirely – in FY2015. In a press conference Thursday, the Department acknowledged a negative staff turnover rate of nearly 20 percent, peaking in April 2015 at 20 percent. That’s more than an 18 percent increase in negative staff turnover from FY14 when 16.9 percent of family case managers left the Department. In exit interviews, FCMs note the top three reasons for leaving were: job pressure and work-related stress; workload (working conditions/schedule); and family circumstances.
To address caseloads, turnover and other structural issues raised by both Senate Democrats and confirmed in a March 2015 report from Deloitte Consulting, the Department has embarked on a number of promising reforms.
For instance, DCS employees will have access to three free, confidential in-person counseling visits with a licensed therapist, per issue, per year, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Those same services will extend to members of employees’ household. The Department is moving forward with other initiatives, including more thorough supervisor and technology training, a high-level point person overseeing reforms, and forward-looking hiring processes among others.
Moving forward, Senate Democrats will continue to work with DCS staff to achieve their long-term goal of making sure Hoosier children are protected.