- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - A state lawmaker plans to introduce a bill that would seek to protect children by expanding which records the Department of Child Services can make public when a child dies or nearly dies and defining what constitutes a “near-fatality.”

Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, a member of the Child Services Oversight Committee and a former DCS attorney, believes the agency has drawn “too hard a line on near-fatalities.”

St. Joseph County Juvenile Magistrate Graham Polando ruled recently that state law does not define what criteria should be used to define near-fatality. The DCS definition includes such requirements as a child being placed on a ventilator and being “certified” as being in critical or serious condition, the South Bend Tribune reported.

Polando also ruled records do not have to be made public in the case of 2-year-old Alaiyah Crockett of South Bend, who has been in a vegetative state for nearly a year.

Alaiyah’s mother, Nyesha Crockett, is charged with murder in the Aug. 31 death of her 11-month-old son, Micayah. She has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, neglect of a dependent resulting in death, aggravated battery and battery with serious bodily injury. She is scheduled to go on trial in February.

DCS emails obtained by the Tribune and WSBT-TV through a public records request show former St. Joseph County DCS director Linda Cioch wrote that a supervisor was “a wreck” following Alaiyah’s death because “she was involved in the near-fatality of the first sibling” and had a “gut feeling” about the case.

Crockett had told police and doctors her daughter had strangled herself with a scarf. Doctors said the injury could have been caused the way she described it.

Broden said he believes DCS should be able to make more information public.

“There could be a lot of information DCS has that could be significant, without compromising confidentiality,” he said. “These are things that if they get out, they can prevent similar situations.”

State Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, and state Rep. David Niezgodski, D-South Bend, say they, too, will support opening up records. Yoder, the chairman of the DCS Oversight Committee, agreed “there’s some confusion” on the near-fatality issue.

He’s just as concerned, however, about DCS’ openness its needs for more case managers in order to stay within mandated caseload limits.

DCS recently presented a budget that acknowledged its significant turnover rate, which means a certain number of jobs are routinely open, and that DCS would need to hire 77 additional family case managers to meet the limits.

“I’ve told them they’ve absolutely got to get on top of this issue,” Yoder said. “I’ve asked them to have a clear and transparent plan to share with us. I hope we have some answers.”

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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