Bonaventura, Indiana Child Welfare Chief, Sounds The Alarm with Resignation

In the fall, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb took to the op-ed page of the Indianapolis Star to communicate with constituents about the state’s opioid and heroin crisis:

“The stories are gut-wrenching: babies born addicted to drugs; high school athletes who get hooked on the pills they’re prescribed for sports injuries; elderly Hoosiers with chronic pain problems,” Holcomb wrote. “They come from all walks of life, and they are dying.”

The Star reported today that last week, Holcomb’s child welfare director resigned with a bombshell letter that accuses Holcomb of making moves that she believes will dramatically worsen the crisis.

Mary Beth Bonaventura, who in 2013 was appointed to lead the Department of Child Services by then-Governor and now Vice President Mike Pence, gave notice on December 12 that she would step down next week.

“I feel I am unable to protect children because of the position taken by your staff to cut funding and services to children in the midst of the opioid crisis,” Bonaventure said in the letter. “I choose to resign, rather than be complicit in decreasing the safety, permanency and well-being of children who have nowhere else to turn.”

Indiana is the 15th most populous state, but it is among the five states where one-third of all foster youth in the United States live, according to recent federal data. The state’s entries into care went up 14 percent in the last year alone, and up 67 percent since 2012.

Bonaventura’s letter accuses Holcomb of appointing a chief of staff, Eric Miller, who has become the de facto director as the governor ignored her requests to punish him for insubordination. While she requested additional funds to help with the rapid influx of youth coming into care, she said Miller was “bent on slashing our budget in ways that all but ensure children will die.”

Miller is the former chief of staff for the Indiana Department of Health, where he served from 2014 to 2017.

Among the other concerns Bonaventura raised in her letter:

A planned $15 million cut to contracts for services that she believes will cause DCS to fail in the provision of court-ordered services to about 1,000 families.

The state abruptly halted a move to upgrade technology infrastructure for child support services, for which Indiana recently received federal approval for reimbursement.

Efforts to undermine her plans to update foster care payment rates and licensing standards.

Holcomb told the Star that DCS budget has been increased by $450 million, and that he will “continue to focus on how to meet the needs of Hoosier families and children.”

Bonaventura was appointed by Pence after spending decades as a juvenile and family court judge in Lake County, Ind.

“Judge Bonaventura is uniquely qualified to lead the state’s Department of Child Services and help to protect Hoosier children from abuse and neglect,” said Governor Pence, when he introduced her in 2013. “She is a strong leader who has an impeccable reputation of integrity and compassion for children.”

Holcomb served as lieutenant governor to Pence, and won election in 2016.

Your support allows The Imprint to provide independent, nonpartisan daily news covering the issues faced by vulnerable children and families.

Subscribe or Donate

The Chronicle of Social Change is now The Imprint, led by award-winning investigative reporter Karen de Sá. Read more here.

New name, same game. Thrilled to be part of this next chapter with @TheImprintNews! Follow to keep up with the latest child welfare and family justice news.