[r63] Helping Hoosier children

Posted by: Zach Weismiller  | Friday, July 5, 2013

It seems like just yesterday we were wrapping up the 2013 session but here we are, 9 weeks out, and entering the month of July. This month marks a very special time as we celebrate Independence Day and reflect upon what it means to live in the United States of America. For centuries, people from around the world have flocked to this country in search of the American Dream; the idea that it doesn’t matter what life you’re born into, but rather what life you work to achieve.

As a legislator, I have always felt that my greatest duty is to secure that same American Dream for future generations. Often, we work to accomplish this through high-quality education opportunities, innovative technologies and a lean government which focuses on freedom rather than regulation. While these are all imperative steps towards achieving our goal, we must not forget the most vulnerable in our society, our children. 

One of the cornerstones of American democracy is our judicial system, a sophisticated network of federal, state and local courts.  Family courts play a very important role as they aid and preserve the family unit, our smallest structure of society. This session, we made various changes to these courts in order to better serve Hoosier children.

In Indiana, abused and neglected children are legally referred to as Children In Need of
Services, or CHINS cases. The Indiana Juvenile Code contains ten categories of CHINS. These categories go beyond the traditional concept of child abuse and neglect and include situations such as child endangerment of self or others, parental failure to participate in school disciplinary proceedings as well as missing children.

This session, we passed legislation reestablishing the ability of prosecuting attorneys, in addition to the Department of Child Services (DCS), to request a juvenile court to authorize the filing of a petition alleging that a child is a CHINS case (Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 164). By expanding the different authorities who can file such petitions, we are ensuring that more children will receive the services they need.

The House also unanimously supported a bill concerning petitions to modify custody and visitation (SEA 202). In order to better serve our youth, if a person files a petition to establish or modify a guardianship, visitation or child custody, a party to the proceeding will now have to inform the court if a party has ever been determined to be a perpetrator in a substantiated report of child abuse or neglect. 
This was one of the recommendations made by the 2012 DCS Interim Study Committee. Many judges on the committee were frustrated because they sometimes made rulings on petitions without realizing DCS’ history with the family. In fact, in 2011, of the 40 children in Indiana who died due to abuse and neglect, DCS had prior history with six of those children. This new legislation is an important step towards ensuring that a judge’s ruling on where a child lives considers these crucial aspects of the child’s current or potential home.

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a legislator is to see substantial, positive change being made. Times like this make me extremely proud to call myself a Hoosier. These specific changes in the way that family courts operate are important steps towards improving the status of children in Indiana. Additionally, they can serve as an example to states across the country looking for ways to best serve their children as well.

I am also proud to be just one small part of a network of states which make this country the place that is it. It gives me great pride to think that Indiana serves as an example to the rest of the country on so many important issues. Our children are our future and their future depends on them growing up in a safe and stable environment. If we want to continue the American Dream, it must live on through them.