There is no greater public priority than protecting our young people. This April, as we mark National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I'm reminded of my duty as a state lawmaker to make sure Indiana's child protection services are working in the best way possible to defend our most vulnerable citizens.
Since the initial creation of Indiana's Department of Child Services (DCS) in 2005, Indiana has taken great strides to better protect children from abuse. Of course, there is always more that can be done to guard our kids. With that mindset, state legislators decided last year to perform a full-scale evaluation of DCS's performance to address any shortcomings in our child-protection system.
A legislative study committee this past summer spent hours hearing testimony from Hoosiers, coming up with recommendations to make sure DCS is operating as effectively as possible. Based on the committee's recommendations, DCS has made changes to its child abuse and neglect reporting hotline. While all reports of child abuse will still be made to the state hotline, the final decision on whether or not to follow through on a report is now completely in the hands of local DCS offices. This will help ensure cases of abuse or neglect are responded to by the people closest to the situation.
In addition to DCS's internal changes, the General Assembly has taken steps this session to increase child protection. To support DCS's improvement efforts, the Senate budget proposal increases funding for DCS by $30 million. This money will allow the agency to hire more family case managers and to reduce caller wait times at the reporting hotline.
Additionally, Senate Bill 125 would require the Department of Health to hire a state child fatality review coordinator, who would help locals investigate the circumstances surrounding child deaths. SB 125 has passed both the Senate and House of Representatives and I'm hopeful will be signed into law by Governor Pence.
It's important to note that these efforts at the state level can only work to better protect Hoosier children if we as community members make child abuse prevention a priority as well. Child abuse can be prevented by strengthening family and community bonds. This month, take time to talk with your children and loved ones, engage in your community and reach out when help is needed.
Please remember, to report cases of child abuse, call the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556.