It is time to take control of funding decisions for juvenile delinquency services away from the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS). This topic should be put on the agendas for the DCS Oversight Committee and/or the Commission on the Improving the Status of Children, as a means of initiating legislative change. Enough is enough.
Since 2008, DCS has had control over approving funding for community services and residential placements juvenile delinquents. The concept theoretically made sense. HEA 1001 (2008) transferred money from each county to a statewide budget. Some agency had to oversee the huge budget and make sure there were appropriate checks and balances, and DCS was chosen.
The reality for those in the juvenile delinquency system has been costly in terms of time spent seeking approvals and frustration when approvals are denied for needy children.
There are currently five service consultants for the entire state. Probation officers have been given the duty to input voluminous data on each child and his/her family into a DCS computer system. Then, a DCS service consultant looks at the data and either accepts the proposed services or rejects the proposal with alternative recommendations — never seeing the child or the family and never personally answering to the court and parties in the courtroom for these decisions.
Too often, DCS puts obstacles in place that are not even tied to anything in the Indiana Code. For example, in the last year or so, a checklist is attached to a denial of services explaining that the court did not first try such things as putting the child in foster care or respite care. The option of respite care is not even in the juvenile code. DCS controls foster care placements. Very, very rarely will DCS place a juvenile delinquent in the limited foster care beds in the state, and, interestingly, these denial checklists are never accompanied by a foster care placement recommendation by the DCS service consultant.
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.
At meetings in the last year, court participants have advocated for the juvenile court judges to just override DCS — take back the control by the power of the bench. Anecdotally, some have. Others recognize the threat of expedited appeal (Indiana Appellate Rule 14.1) that was also part of HEA 1001 (2008). If DCS wins the expedited appeal, the individual counties must pay for the ordered services. But, the county funds to pay for such services were transferred to the State in 2008.
DCS has their hands full with their primary focus of caring for abused and neglected children and offering services to ensure safe permanency with their families. Let the juvenile courts and counties regain control over their delinquent children and the task of meeting their many, varied needs. It is time.