ANDERSON — Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings will be asking Gov. Eric Holcomb to change Indiana’s law when it comes to wards of the state.
Cummings on Monday said he is contacting Holcomb and local legislators to change the law so that protecting children becomes the main focus for the Indiana Department of Child Services.
His comments came after a caseworker was charged Monday by a Madison County grand jury with four felony counts of neglect of a 4-year-old Anderson boy.
“This continues to happen. I just don’t know if we will ever get a handle on it,” Cummings said of the abuse and neglect cases.
“Last year we had four children murdered in this community,” he said. “We got a new director of child services. I was hoping things were going to change. It did for a little while, but things like this continue to happen.”
Cummings said the whole mindset of the agency is flawed and the law needs to be changed.
“The concern is to reunite the children. That can’t be the primary focus,” he said. “Protecting the child should be the priority. They see what is happening and do nothing about it.”
There has been no movement to change the law, he said, adding he thinks that is what has to happen for the agency to redirect its thinking about protecting children.
“We have to make the primary focus of this agency to protect children and not reunification of families,” he said. “Maybe you do try to reunify the families, but you maintain extra vigilance on that child, and that didn’t happen in this case.”
State Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, has been a proponent of more resources for DCS for a number of years.
“That would be a major change in the approach of DCS,” Lanane said of Cummings’ proposal. “For decades, the ultimate goal has been reunification if it’s in the best interest and safety of the child.”
Lanane wondered what standard would be put in place when making a decision to reunify children with their families.
“Not every case is the same,” he said. “In a case of abuse, the safety of the child should be a priority. But in neglect it could be because of poverty or ignorance.”
Lanane agreed with Cummings that there should be proper monitoring of children reunited with their families.
“I have advocated for more resources in DCS,” Lanane said. “There are exploding caseloads and that is putting more strain on the caseworkers.”
Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said she thinks the process needs to be more than a judgment call by a DCS worker.
“If there was counseling from a family therapist that has been involved, they should know if it’s safe for a child to be returned,” she said. “There needs to be more professional involvement in the process.”
Austin said one problem is that DCS records are considered confidential information.
“There are legislators frustrated by some of the continuing problems in DCS,” she said.
Cummings said no one checked on the welfare of the child in the latest case to see if there were injuries.
“It’s incredibly frustrating to see what is happening to children in this community and that agency doesn’t seem to have the resources to do their job,” he said.
“They need a different mindset,” Cummings continued. “Reunification of the family should be secondary to protecting the children.”