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DCS works to keep children safe in Indiana

It is a sad reality that not all parents create a safe and loving environment in which their children can live and grow. Those who work in child welfare face this reality every day.

Yet this is the reason the Department of Child Services (DCS) exists. We lead the state’s response to allegations of child abuse or neglect. We answer the call when struggling children and families need help. We do everything we can to keep families intact.

And if it is not safe for a child to stay at home, we also respond to that call.

Recent stories have highlighted the complex circumstances and sometimes heartbreaking events that can occur in the child welfare system.

Erik Molenaar

Erik Molenaar

There are also hundreds of wonderful results every day that you will never read about. Because our work deals with the intimate details of a child’s life, confidentiality requirements also make it difficult for us to share the success stories and nuances of challenging cases.

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DCS staff work endlessly to serve Hoosier children and their families in every county. Many of our employees have dedicated their lives to this work for more than twenty years; Some experienced the child welfare system as children and were called to make a difference as adults.

Most importantly, we are also members of the communities we serve. We are parents. We are your neighbors. We’re Hoosiers, just like you.

This is often hard work. When we knock, it is usually at a family’s darkest moment. In general, we are not welcome because of fear or shame. Individuals may provide conflicting or untruthful information. Through it all, our goal is to do what is in the best interests of the children we serve.

Each case involves multiple parties, including DCS, prosecutors, judges, law enforcement agencies, and biological and foster parents. The role of DCS is to peel back the layers and conduct thorough investigations, while respecting the balance between the rights of parents and the state’s interest in keeping children safe.

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We look at where the child is failing and consider which instruments should be used to improve the situation. Importantly, DCS must make its recommendations to the court and obtain its approval.

When tragedy strikes, no one takes it more personally than the DCS staff who invest so much in that child’s well-being and success. We follow a national protocol that involves a thorough review of each critical incident to identify which systems failed and what improvements need to be made.

DCS’ vision is that children will live in safe, healthy and supportive families and communities. We have made enormous progress in recent years. Children find permanent homes more quickly. We are recruiting more case managers for families and providing financial support to unlicensed kinship caregivers (for example, grandparents) to better equip them to take in and care for a family member.

We have also invested millions of dollars more in the Healthy Families Indiana prevention program, which proactively helps reduce the number of families entering the child welfare system. Each of these efforts plays a critical role in keeping children safe.

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Children are our greatest asset and our brightest future, and as a state we must work together to protect them. I am proud of the work DCS does to ensure every Hoosier child has a safe place to call home.

Eric Miller is director of the Indiana Department of Child Services.

This article originally appeared on the Evansville Courier & Press: Op-Ed: DCS works to keep children safe in Indiana

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