INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg said Monday that if elected in November he would push to restore money cut from Indiana's Department of Child Services budget in recent years and use it to promote more adoptions and restore mental health services.
Gregg also said he'd like to establish a new office to coordinate responses to family needs between state agencies.
"We're going to make children a priority in this state," Gregg said during a news conference where he stood alongside running mate Vi Simpson, the state Senate minority leader.
The department's troubles statewide have been detailed in a series of newspaper investigations. The Indianapolis Star has chronicled the beating deaths of a half-dozen children last year who had contact with the state agency. The state unsuccessfully tried to block the South Bend Tribune from publishing the details of calls to the state by concerned neighbors before the beating death of a 10-year-old boy.
Gov. Mitch Daniels included the child services department in a round of deep budget cuts across all state agencies the last few years. The state cut $100 million, or 15 percent of the child services budget, in the 2011 budget and cut $16 million, or 3 percent, from the 2012 budget. Department chief of staff John Ryan maintained in a press conference earlier this month that the $100 million in cuts did not result in a decrease in services.
Gregg says he would like to restore some of the money to be used to help adoptive parents obtain counseling, medical equipment and other services.
Libertarian candidate for governor Rupert Boneham said Monday he's been trying to find out which programs the children's services department cut. He said he would like to see money from the state's $2 billion in reserves, built largely through budget cuts, used to create social and health services within the agency for the children and struggling parents.
"Who better to help these kids with getting the support they need than their DCS agent?" Boneham said.
A spokeswoman for Republican Mike Pence said he will be laying out his ideas for the improving the department later in the campaign.
"Mike will continue to build on that vision by rolling out specific policies on a regular basis all the way through September," said Christy Denault, Pence's communications director.
The child services department has been criticized for not doing more to protect children from abuse and neglect. Agency spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland says the criticism ignores improvements that include a centralized child abuse hotline and better worker training.
The state's new central hotline did away with an inefficient patchwork of local agencies that were slow in responding to abuse and neglect calls, she said.
"You had them all interpreting those calls in 92 different ways, now you have one central line staffed 24 hours a day," McFarland said.
State lawmakers are planning to study the hotline and other changes to the department this summer.