The Herald Bulletin

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April 7, 2014

Report: Indiana child death probes take too long

INDIANAPOLIS — A state ombudsman has told the Indiana Department of Child Services its investigations into child deaths and near-fatalities still can take too long.

Ombudsman Alfreda Singleton-Smith recommended the child welfare agency develop a plan to speed up its investigation of such cases, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The agency implemented a policy in 2012 to complete such assessments within 180 days. The new ombudsman's report covering 2013, which was released last week, said the agency still isn't always meeting that deadline but did not include details on those troubles.

DCS officials told Singleton-Smith that the agency's assessments can be delayed by reports from other agencies and coordination with county prosecutor's offices and police investigators.

"The ombudsman report is an independent look at how to improve DCS processes," agency spokesman James Wide said. "DCS has (used) and will continue to use the recommendations to protect Hoosier children from abuse and neglect and work to ensure their financial support."

The child fatality recommendation was in response to changes made in 2012, after the ombudsman found DCS was taking nearly two years to complete some of its fatality and near-fatality investigations.

The new report said the ombudsman's office fielded 607 complaints about the child welfare agency in 2013, a slight increase from the year before. The bureau opened cases on 210 of them.

State legislators established the Ombudsman Bureau in 2009 amid concerns about the deaths of several children involved with DCS, and about a growing number of children being removed from their families.

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