Perhaps we need to channel Alexander the Great (356 – 323 B.C.) to help us address our Gordian Knot type problem of child welfare. You will recall Alexander eschewed the niceties of trying to unravel the problem step by laborious step and simply slashed through the morass of hemp with his sword. A tempting approach to any complicated puzzle but probably of little lasting benefit.
As we know from experience, every complicated situation can be papered over with a simple, wrong answer. We naturally yearn for quick and cheap solutions but these never cure the “disease” and often result in fatalities. That is what the former Indiana State Department of Children’s Services Director Mary Beth Bonaventura pointed out in her letter of resignation. She told Governor Eric Holcomb our current failure to adequately fund and analyze our child welfare needs will, “[A]ll but ensure children will die.”
And while this dramatic statement grabs our attention, what former Judge Bonaventura did not say was that Indiana child welfare is not just a DCS problem; it involves numerous other state and county level agencies such as courts, prosecutor offices, police departments, healthcare providers, schools, and several others in addition to families, immediate and extended.
I have plenty to do as Posey Circuit Court Judge when it comes to children who have need of or who use up taxpayer provided services. While I know we must approach this crisis of Children in Need of Services from all angles, I also know all hard problems call for careful, incremental approaches. So I will stay within my jurisdiction and address how the Judicial branch of government could help if the Legislative and Executive branches assist us to.
First let me give you an idea of how most Indiana courts, especially in small counties, must address the needs of families. Posey County has two judges. We divide all legal matters in such a way about half of the cases go to each court. The Circuit Court hears the Child in Need of Services cases. Frequently a family in DCS cases consists of one mother, two or more children and two or more fathers.
These are critical matters. Children may be at physical or mental risk, parents may be at risk of losing their children and the DCS has the duty to protect everyone’s interests while the Court must protect everyone’s rights. Each parent needs an attorney and in every case a Guardian Ad Litem must be appointed by the Court to concentrate on the children’s interests. Of course, wealthy people rarely are inconvenienced by such legal matters so the taxpayers must provide. You can readily see where we are headed.
This scenario also calls for Family Case Managers, police officers, mental and medical professionals, court personnel and a courtroom with lights, heat, recording equipment, etc.
Okay, I know this is exhausting. However, there is no Gordian Knot solution. It comes down to hard, complicated and expensive work. On the other hand, what could be more important?