Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Panel Calls for DCS Hotline Overhaul ; Lawmakers Urge High Priority in 2013 Session

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Panel Calls for DCS Hotline Overhaul ; Lawmakers Urge High Priority in 2013 Session

Article excerpt

INDIANAPOLIS - Decisions on how to handle complaints about child abuse would be made by county-level officials, rather than staffers at a state hotline, under a plan that a bipartisan panel of Indiana lawmakers is advancing. An out-of-session state legislative study committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a measure intended to decentralize some of the functions of the statewide call center that Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration launched and has defended.

The recommendation came at the group's final meeting. It drew broad support, providing a harmonious ending to what was at times a bitter battle over the future of the state's child services agency that saw Daniels insisting it is performing the best it ever has.

Lawmakers pointed to changing circumstances - Republican Gov.- elect Mike Pence's election and longtime Department of Child Services head Jim Payne's resignation under fire for conflicts of interest - as reasons for the change in tone.

"It should never have become political," said Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville.

The plan would require hiring 130 new case managers and 26 new supervisors, at a cost of about $9 million per year, said the agency's head, John Ryan.

Rep. Kevin Mahan, the Hartford City Republican who co-chaired the study committee, said giving the agency that funding "needs to rate very high" as a priority in the legislature's upcoming four-month, budget-writing session.

"We're talking about the safety of children. We're talking about some of the most vulnerable Hoosiers that we have in society. I certainly know I'll be doing my part to make sure that everyone knows how important this is," Mahan said.

Over the course of seven meetings, the group of lawmakers heard repeated complaints that hotline workers either screened out important calls, leading to no action, or didn't know enough about the areas the calls came from to launch quick investigations. …

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