Protecting children means fighting drugs

We give Gov. Mike Pence a lot of advice in this space.

Today, we take time to congratulate him on a recent action.

Pence approved hiring 113 new caseworkers for the Indiana Department of Child Services, agreeing to spend $7.5 million for the expansion.

“Our administration will continue to put kids first,” Pence said.

Pence said the agency’s caseload has grown 26 percent higher than this time last year, partly due to a heroin epidemic that is leaving addicts’ children in the hands of the state.

The additional caseworkers will expand the state’s staff by only 7 percent. But the state already is in the process of adding another 100 caseworkers, using money approved by the Legislature last spring.

Pence also should get credit for pushing to hire the first 100 extra caseworkers.

Last fall, the Department of Child Services notified state leaders that it was not meeting standards limiting caseworkers to 17 cases apiece.

“We don’t have the option of compliance,” Department of Child Services Director Mary Beth Bonaventura told The Associated Press. “We don’t have the option of (saying), ‘Y’know what, we don’t want to be out of compliance, we’re not gonna come and pick up Johnny with cigarette burns, you can keep him.’”

She’s right that looking out for Indiana’s most vulnerable citizens should be a requirement and a top priority.

In a larger sense, hiring more caseworkers is a form of treating the symptoms. Indiana could save money on caseworkers down the road by addressing the root of the problem.

In southern Indiana, it’s heroin that is flooding the system with neglected children. In northeast Indiana, the highly addictive illegal drug methamphetamine is the monster sending children into foster care.

If legislators would like to spend less money on child-welfare caseworkers, they could devote even more effort to fighting drug epidemics.

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