A legislative study committee on child welfare didn’t propose or recommend any legislation for the upcoming session in 2024.
The study committee looked into local and state child fatality review teams and the state Department of Child Services this year. The panel could have made recommendations to change laws and policies to improve child safety. However, its final report, released on Wednesday, only suggested topics for further study.
Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) said he hoped to see more data in the report about child fatalities from the Indiana Department of Health.
“We are statutorily required to issue this report basically on the status of child fatalities, you know, of, you know, what's happening in our state,” he said. “But yet, the link or the missing piece of this puzzle lies within the Department of Health.”
During the meeting, Ford suggested leaving a spot to potentially amend the report if IDOH data comes in soon. The committee’s chair, Sen. Greg Walker (R-Columbus), said he is “not certain” why there has been a delay in this data, and said he was unsure about this suggestion.
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Despite these concerns, Ford said he was happy the committee recommended further work toward increased child safety.
“What can we do?” he asked. “What trends can we see to prevent another death from happening in our state? That should be our top priority.”
Walker said he feels the final report allows agencies and the government to work together to improve child safety.
“We don't want to just report some fatalities,” he said. “We want to find a way to prevent them, obviously. So knowing that the agency can’t be in every home where there are challenging circumstances, we want to ensure they’re doing good work to get that accomplished.”
He said another hope moving forward is a better understanding of the Indiana Department of Child Services.
“If we have a better working knowledge of the agency's impact on their lives, I think we can be better advocates to help them through the process as well,” Walker said.
Walker said there is currently no specific related legislation being pursued on this topic for the upcoming 2024 session.
Recommendations for further study in the final report include increased availability of real-time reporting, timely reporting from child fatality review teams, better staffing and retention for DCS, and how to prevent abuse fatalities from “other adults” in a particular household.