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By State Sen. Erin Houchin (R-Salem)

Our state, along with the rest of the country, is fighting a deadly opioid epidemic. One of the many negative side effects of this issue is the skyrocketing number of children in need of services in Indiana. The Department of Child Services (DCS) is simply unable to keep up with the number of children whose parents are not able to care for them.

To help ensure DCS and Indiana’s foster parents are able to adequately support these children, I authored Senate Bill 1, which would improve services for vulnerable children.

This bill would require courts considering out-of-home placement for a child to balance the child’s best interests with keeping him or her in the most family-like setting possible. This would begin with requiring DCS to attempt to identify all adult relatives of a child at the time out-of-home placement is recommended and in subsequent months. 

In addition, it would create a 24-hour hotline for family case managers to obtain information and assistance when attempting to find out-of-home placement with the child’s relatives or foster care. This hotline would help reduce the workload of family case managers and the amount of time it takes to place children in stable, safe homes. These provisions would help ensure DCS is exercising due diligence to search for a suitable family placement from the moment a child enters the system.

SB 1 would also provide for greater input from foster parents who invest their time, energy and care for children in out-of-home placement by ensuring they are able to intervene in a termination of parental rights proceeding for their foster child. 

Current Indiana law requires DCS to file a termination of parental rights petition if a child has been in DCS custody for at least 15 of the previous 22 months. However, this is not always completed in a timely manner. SB 1 would allow a foster parent who wishes to adopt a child already in their care to petition the court to hold a termination of parental rights hearing within 30 days if DCS has not filed a petition.

Furthermore, SB 1 would create a standard form that would be offered to all foster parents, allowing them the opportunity to provide valuable input to courts during child in need of services cases. Their input would be provided to both the court and all DCS progress reports for their foster child.

Finally, this bill would create a “right of first choice” that would require a court to attempt to place a child with the same custodian if the child has repeated out-of-home placements. The difficulties faced by children who go through repeated out-of-home placements are often traumatizing, and placing them in the care of adults they already have a relationship with would help provide them with some stability and comfort.

As a former DCS caseworker, I understand the importance of providing efficient services to vulnerable children across our state. While removing children from their homes and families is something nobody ever wants to do, in cases where their safety and well-being are at stake, it is critical to handle matters quickly and with their best interests in mind. I will continue to advocate for our state’s foster children and parents as we continue through this legislative session and beyond.

SB 1 passed the Senate unanimously and has been assigned to the House Committee on Family, Children and Human Affairs.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns regarding this issue or others, contact me by email at [email protected] or by phone at 800-382-9467.