Bill aims to improve system for children


South Bend Tribune

If you follow but a handful of bills during the current session of the General Assembly, Senate Bill 364 should be one of them.

The legislation, written by state Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, takes a necessary step toward making the state’s child protection system more open and accountable to the public.

Most significantly, the bill defines “near-fatality” in children. Currently, Indiana law provides for records to be released — minus certain identifying information — in a child’s “fatality or near-fatality,” but it doesn’t describe what a near-fatality is.

For its part, the Department of Child Services’ policy defines a near-fatality with such references as a child being on a ventilator or a condition “certified” as critical or serious.

The need for clarity in state law was brought home once again with the local tragedy involving 11-month-old Micahyah Crockett of South Bend, who was smothered and beaten in August.

His mother, Nyesha Crockett, is accused of killing Micahyah and of critically injuring in February her then-14-month-old daughter, Alaiyah, who is now in a vegetative state. Information was released last month about Micahyah’s records, but not Alaiyah’s. A local magistrate ruled that because state law doesn’t adequately define a near-fatality, he couldn’t require the Department of Child Services to release the records.

Broden’s bill, which was sent to the Family and Children Services Committee, would include the definition of a near-fatality as “a severe childhood injury or condition that results in a child receiving critical care for at least 24 hours following the child’s admission to a critical care unit.” In a recent South Bend Tribune story, he explained that the language might be adjusted or further defined in the bill’s hearing stage.

Broden’s idea of language that broadens the DCS definition but still offers some confidentiality to the children involved sounds like the right balance.

Other lawmakers — including state Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, chairman of the DCS Oversight Committee — have expressed support for Broden’s efforts, but the success of this legislation is by no means guaranteed.

One thing’s for sure: Indiana’s child protection system cries out for more transparency and accountability. Senate Bill 364 is a welcome attempt to address this problem. And if the well-being of the most vulnerable Hoosiers isn’t a priority this session, then shame on Indiana.

This editorial was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to [email protected].

No posts to display