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CarePortal bill moves to House

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

A bill authored by Sen. Andy Zay (R-Huntington) that would help connect churches to the needs of at-risk children passed the Indiana Senate.

The bill looks to expand a program called CarePortal and other programs like it.

CarePortal is an online platform that helps churches fill real-time, immediate needs of children and families in their communities. The platform is already used in 19 states.

Noblesville-based Hands of Hope is managing Indiana's first pilot of the program, which launched a few weeks ago.

Jess Gafkjen, regional manager of the CarePortal pilot in Indiana, said Department of Child Services (DCS) case workers can submit requests on behalf of families they encounter during cases and investigations. Churches that are part of CarePortal are alerted to the needs and work to meet them.

“Think of it as an Uber app,” Zay said.

One of the first requests filled by Indianapolis churches was a request for three beds, Gafkjen said.

DCS workers had told a single mother with three boys that she needed to move out of their mouse and bedbug-infested housing.

The woman found new housing but couldn't afford beds or bedding for her children, so the DCS worker sent the request into the system and local churches were able to provide the needed items.

Gafkjen said three beds could have been the difference between the boys entering the foster care system or staying with their mother.

“The reality is some children enter the foster system because of poverty, not neglect. ... DCS and Hands of Hope have come together and realized if we can prevent children from ever entering the system it's a win for everyone,” Gafkjen said.

"There are times when a family in crisis just needs more help, and this is an avenue to provide that help," she added. 

Zay said child welfare is “a ballooning problem” for the state.

“We have a caseload that's grown 80 percent in the last four years. We're spending $2 million per day on child welfare cases,” Zay said.

The senator said his bill addresses the financial strain of the state's growing problem by helping DCS access a different set of community resources.

“(CarePortal) brings human capital and financial resources to the issue that would be free for the state,” Zay said.

Zay's legislation, SB 365, which passed the Senate 40-0 Tuesday evening, does not provide any funding for the program, but Zay said he is working on that piece of the bill.

His goal is to find $600,000 total, $200,000-300,000 of which could come from DCS's budget, to fund expansion to other parts of the state.

Scott Platter, U.S. ministry director for the Global Orphan Project, which created CarePortal, said Indiana is one of the first states to introduce legislation supporting CarePortal.

“Indiana is kind of on the front-edge of that,” Platter said.

Ohio and Florida also have pending legislation, according to Platter.

DCS declined to comment for this story, citing the pending legislation.

Hands of Hope Executive Director Suzy Roth said the northeast Marion County pilot will run for six months, and then the organization will begin thinking about where CarePortal might go next. Gafkjen said she's already been contacted by churches outside Marion County wanting to get involved. 

“We're grateful that Senator Zay and some of the other senators are expressing their support for the program, and saying that it's the responsibility of the community, not just the government, to care for these families,” Roth said.

The bill now goes to the Indiana House of Representatives for consideration.