Mayor Greg Ballard, in Indianapolis between jaunts overseas, has spoken out on how to address problems here in Indianapolis. Yesterday Mayor Ballard announced a new initiative---"Your Life Matters"---targeted, as noted by Indy Democrat blogger Jon Easter, "specifically towards troubled and at-risk young people." The Indianapolis daily newspaper noted: "Ballard pledged a $75,000 investment in the Connect 2 Help 211 telephone service. The nonprofit connects people, especially parents who need help with troubled children, to human service providers."
Really? Parents who self-report the need for help finally have resources available?
A visit to the Connect 2 Help 211 website and a search under names of organizations to which one may be referred for services brings one to the Department of Child Services, a/k/a DCS (formerly known as "CPS")..
People who are in "need help with troubled children" are people for whom Mayor Ballard's "Your Life Matters" initiative is intended. Anyone who makes such a call should understand the risks attendant upon the request for help.
Under Indiana law, Department of Child Services, under specific circumstances, can petition a court to declare a Child in Need of Services. The person who makes that initial determination may be well-trained and quite sincere. There are excellent people who work at DCS. Unfortunately, there are people who work there who are not so excellent.The court may decline to declare the child, or children, to be in need of services and the case is dismissed.
Unfortunately, parents have to go to court and answer to charges raised by a DCS investigator. The family home is described in stark terms. Parents usually admit to the CHINs petition and agree to undergo services. In many cases, such services are needed and appropriate. In some cases they are neither.
If parents or a parent fails to complete services, or fails successfully to complete services, or if the home is deemed unfit, the child or children may be removed from the home. Parents' access may be limited to supervised visitation at the office of DCS or a private entity, that makes money for provision of the service, during which the parent or parents' interaction with the child or children will be observed and recorded. Regular reports are generated and eventually go to the court before which the CHINs action has been brought.
If this sounds bad, realize it can get worse. There are statutory time limits that kick in after a child or children have been removed from the parent or parents' home for 15 of the preceding 22 months under a dispositional order. That is when DCS files a Petition for Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship, or a TPR. There are Family Case Managers of DCS who have said such things as: a parent who smoked marijuana once, years before in college, has a substance abuse problem for which therapy is a necessary service; if a parent has become intoxicated once in her or his life---even years before conception of her or his first child---that person is not fit to be a parent.
Barney Fife on steroids? Maybe. Or maybe Barney Fife had a bit more understanding to what perhaps are exceptions. Unfortunately, once in the system, the family has a difficult time departing. Departure might be through TPR---a nuke to the family. Such an order terminates the parent-child relationship completely.
So before parents or a parent "self-report(s)" a problem with a "troubled child," all should be advised of the possibilities under the law---before picking up the receiver or cell phone to make the call to 211. They should use a computer at a public library, determine what services are available outside the governmental channels, and double-check those services. Then again, we are talking about people who usually are "working poor" and have little enough time after work to fix dinner and be with their children.
Some people will say hypocrisy resides with a person who advocates government assistance and funds for many things in our culture, then blanches at its use. Perhaps, but the problems we have as a community are more complex than to let "free market" principles rule. After all, a lot of the services to which CHINs families are referred are private contractors.