An independent consultant’s evaluation of the Department of Child Services has taken small steps in its first month on the ground. The consultant delivered its first progress report on the assessment Thursday – an update that’s yielded more questions than answers.
The evaluation of DCS began Jan. 2 and consultant Sue Steib says it’s expected to end in June. Steib says her group has already identified an agency issue: an ineffective data system.
“It’s described to us as just not being as functional as they would like it to be to easily obtain the reports that they need,” Steib says.
Neither new DCS Director Terry Stigdon nor the governor’s office will say if the agency will move to upgrade its data system this year.
House Minority Leader Terry Goodin (D-Austin) says that’s not an acceptable answer.
“Whatever the recommendations are to fix the problem, it is incumbent upon the state of Indiana to fix those problems,” Goodin says.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) says it’s premature to move forward with a solution until the consultant’s final report is delivered, which is expected in June. And he says if DCS needs more money to implement a new data system, the governor should have the ability to move funds around.
“If they don’t, we’ll find out pretty quickly and we’ll enable that,” Long says. “But I think that’s a priority and nothing should wait until 2019 if it’s needed now.”
Another issue the consultant identified: high numbers of children in the DCS system in out-of-home care – like foster care – which puts a greater burden on the state. Indiana’s out-of-home care rate is nearly triple the national average.
Controversy at DCS erupted with former Director Mary Beth Bonaventura’s December resignation letter, which raised significant issues with the agency and questioned Gov. Eric Holcomb’s management. Director Stigdon says she hasn’t read the letter.
“And I’m a different person than anyone that’s been here before. So while I may do things differently, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something is broken,” Stigdon says.
The independent consultant’s work will include interviews with stakeholders, shadowing employees, and a review of all DCS internal policies and procedures.
The consultant won’t say whether they’ll interview former director Bonaventura.
The group’s final report is expected to conclude in June.