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Proposal to give legislators more insight into injuries, deaths in state's child welfare system

Houchin says Indiana needs to track child injuries
Posted at 3:39 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 15:42:30-05

INDIANAPOLIS — State lawmakers are moving forward with a proposal they say would save the lives of children in Indiana’s child welfare system.

Senate Bill 301 would give the legislature more insight into children who are injured or die that have had previous involvement with the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS).

It would expand the scope of local and state child fatality review teams, and allow them to also study when children in the child welfare system are seriously injured.

It would also add legislative members to the state’s child fatality review committee.

Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Milltown, said the goal is not to criticize DCS but rather to improve procedures and save lives.

“The goal is to try to reduce the fatalities or the serious injuries to children-particularly those that have had some involvement with DCS,” Houchin said. “As policy makers and representatives of these children, we owe it to them to be able to further investigate and further ask questions and further study."

Houchin’s said her amendment introduced Monday is meant to be preventative.

During her testimony, Houchin mentioned baby De’Reya, who WRTV Investigates reported died at 6 months old due to blunt force trauma.

De’Reya tested positive for cocaine at the time of her birth and became a ward of DCS, court records show.

She was returned to her mother’s custody in September of 2019, but the DCS case was still pending, records show.

De’Reya was dead three months later, and her mother is now charged with child neglect resulting in death.

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Houchin said Indiana needs to follow states like South Carolina, Tennessee, California and Arizona and better track injuries of children in the child welfare system, not just deaths.

“I believe it would be useful to have some insight into some of these things, so if there are glaring issues that need to be addressed, we can be in a position to help do that,” Houchin said. “I think we should be able to review these outcomes and see if there are things that we can do legislatively or recommended policy changes to improve the safety of these children.”

According to the 2019 Annual Report of Child Abuse & Neglect Fatalities report, the Indiana Department of Child Services investigated 276 child deaths in 2019 – 61 were determined to have been caused by caregiver maltreatment, down from 65 in 2018.

Twelve of the 61 victims (19%) included in the report had prior substantiated history with DCS.

Improper sleeping arrangements, including co-sleeping, remain a leading contributor to infant fatalities as well as lack of supervision.

Caregivers were found responsible in seven drownings, and three children died after they or another child accessed an unsecured firearm, according to the report.

Senate Bill 301 passed out of the Senate Family and Children Services Committee Monday.

DCS did not testify on the bill, but WRTV has reached out to the agency for a statement.