INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb said Monday that the state had committed millions of dollars to support the Indiana Department of Child Services despite criticism by outgoing Director Mary Beth Bonaventura that funding was one of the issues leading her to resign her post.
In a resignation letter highly critical of state funding, overwhelming caseloads and Holcomb's appointments, Bonaventura wrote to Holcomb, "I feel 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."
In response, Holcomb on Monday again thanked Bonaventura for her years of service and commitment to keep children safe.
"I share that commitment and that’s why the state continues to make investments in the agency. We are providing record funding to DCS with nearly half a billion dollars more in funding support over the next two years. We will continue to do all we can to protect children," Holcomb said in a statement.
Holcomb issued the statement Monday afternoon, less than two minutes before State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, asked the State Budget Committee to review the DCS budget during the upcoming General Assembly.
Questions were raised whether the budget committee should meet during the General Assembly that reconvenes Jan. 3 or wait until the 10-week session is over.
Gregory Porter, a member of the budget committee, told the panel, "I am concerned when I hear Madame Secretary talk about the loss of lives and families being ruined, when you talk about the system somewhat failing, do we really want to put it three or four months down the road in regards to a four-page letter written by the secretary?"
A motion to hold the budget meeting was rejected 3-2.
Calls for DCS budget reviews may begin piling up.
“We intend to ask questions in every available venue," House Democratic Leader Terry Goodin, of Austin, said Monday in a statement. "It will be a constant debate topic before the full House, and I intend to ask our members on both the Ways and Means and the Family, Children and Human Affairs committees to demand full investigations into the concerns raised by Director Bonaventura. This should be a priority for all legislators during the 2018 session."
Bonaventura, who had been appointed by then-Gov. Mike Pence in 2013, also wrote that she had been stripped of the ability to run DCS after Eric Miller was named chief of staff in her office although he had "no child welfare experience" and was selected because he had been "an asset during the campaign." Miller had engineered hirings that drove out career professionals and engaged in bullying subordinates, Bonaventura wrote.
Bonaventura's frustration may have first surfaced in June as she responded to concerns from some of Indiana's county DCS offices as part of an annual progress report planned for a period to cover July 1 ,2017 to June 30, 2018.
A report from Switzerland County, which is included in the report, discussed a planned Employee Appreciation Day to relieve job stress in that county's DCS office. But with caseload demands, many staffers felt they should stay in the office to work.
Nevertheless, staffers were ordered to attend.
The report's writer stated, "It’s not easy to have a good time when your desk is piled high. Another failed attempt to boost morale in the minds of many."
Bonaventura responded noting that local DCS field staffers were the "backbone of Indiana's child welfare system."
Unfortunately, similar to child protection agencies across the country, "DCS continues to experience higher than desirable employee turnover and recruitment challenges."
Since 2007, she wrote, Indiana had been trying to reverse the trend.
She said DCS continued to request that the legislature provide additional funding. In a parenthetical note, she said the consequences of funding troubles leads to increased stays in care for youth and a delay in assessments and permanency for children.