The (Munster) Times. November 14, 2017

State needs to improve day care regulation

The arrest of Tawana Cole prompted Merrillville officials to put in place new regulations for home-based child care facilities. Where action is really needed, however, is at the state level.

Cole was charged with 13 counts each of criminal confinement and neglect of a dependent following an April 11 incident at one of her three home child care homes. One home is in Gary; the other two are in Merrillville, including the one where police said they found guns, knives and liquor bottles.

Merrillville officials quickly responded.

Merrillville Police Chief Joseph Petruch said Cole's case is not the first time his department has dealt with problems at a child care home. Nor is this problem unique to Merrillville.

The Times' Steve Garrison took a deep dive into that case, and the state's regulation of home child care facilities.

After his questions for state regulators, the Family and Social Services Administration announced it is developing an online portal for child care providers. An FSSA spokeswoman said she hopes the agency will reduce the number of paperwork-related citations issued as a result.

Here's a better shopping list for reforms:

Require training before a child care provider is allowed to begin caring for children.

Geraldine Harmon, the operator of Village Park Child Care, at 7440 Broadway in Merrillville, said the state also should have stricter credentialing requirements for home child care operators. She's right.

Currently, child care operators are required to complete a child development associate credential program, which trains operators on best practices in the child care industry, within three years of obtaining their operator's license. Harmon is an instructor for a credentialing program.

"I've had students who, after the first month," Harmon said, "totally re-do their home day care operation based on what they learn in the class."

We're not talking about babysitters here. This is about providing proper child care that nurtures children and helps them prepare for preschool, kindergarten and beyond.

In Cole's case, federal money paid for child care for low-income families in her home-based day care. That federal money alone should provide leverage for requiring credentials prior to providing child care.

Inspect child care homes with the same frequency as day care ministries operated by religious insitutions.

Harmon also noted that Indiana law requires day care ministries to be inspected two to four times a year, but child care homes require only one inspection per year. Why the distinction between the two?

The provider portal that FSSA is developing is intended to help providers get their paperwork in order before these inspections. Missing child and staff paperwork is often cited during annual inspections.

Act when a day care provider is charged with certain crimes.

Also of concern is that Cole was allowed to continue operating her child care homes after she was charged with several felonies in June 2014.

In the U.S. legal system, defendants are innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law. But shouldn't there be an abundance of caution when children are involved, as is the case when a child care provider is charged with a violent crime?

Make it easier for parents to shop carefully for caregivers.

Finally, it should be easier for parents to review FSSA reports as parents determine which child care option is best for them.

The Indiana Department of Education has made it easy to shop for schools by using a clear rating system and uniform criteria. The FSSA should adopt a similar mission in providing guidance for parents, and then provide an easy way to sort and compare reports for child care centers in their area.

Garrison's investigation showed there are multiple ways in which Indiana's regulation of child care centers, particularly operations in a provider's home, is lacking. We have outlined some of the ways to improve it, but surely more can be, and must be, done.

This issue needs a champion to help the Indiana General Assembly and the FSSA craft sensible regulation to protect children. We hope more than one of our local lawmakers will rise to that challenge.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. November 15, 2017

Remove barriers to behavioral therapy

With a deserving recommendation from the Indiana Commission On Improving the Status of Children, licensing requirements for behavioral health therapists should be in line for legislative changes in the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

The commission, comprised of the top officials for state agencies working most closely with Indiana families and children, tackled an issue that is increasingly affecting efforts to address the state's worsening opioid epidemic: a shortage of mental health providers.

The problem, described in a July opinion article published here by Rachel Tobin-Smith, is a burdensome licensing process causing some Indiana therapists to seek work out of state.

"Sadly, some mental health counseling graduates say they wished they had never gone back to school to be a mental health counselor," wrote the former executive director of SCAN, "Others leave Indiana for states that accept the college accreditation standards. Any way you look at it, Indiana's families lose."

After reviewing results of a survey of service providers that showed barriers to licensing, the full commission recommended aligning Indiana's requirements with those of 30 other states - reducing the current 1,000-hour internship requirement to 700 hours. The commission also recommended allowing virtual supervision of internship hours to help applicants in rural areas and those supervised by professionals outside the agency they serve.

Minor changes in state law will accommodate the changes, but the commission also recommended additional staffing for the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency to address lost paperwork, unanswered phone calls and other bureaucratic snafus.

The recommendations should be instituted as quickly as possible. The opioid crisis is responsible for nearly doubling the number of children caught up in the state's welfare system, and many require longer stays in child protective services as their parents and guardians battle addiction.

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South Bend Tribune. November 17, 2017

Public deserves more details on South Bend police gun

In September, after a loaded gun belonging to the department was found lying in a street, South Bend police provided scant information, saying they couldn't comment during an ongoing investigation into the incident.

The public didn't know much beyond the assertion that there was nothing criminal about how the gun ended up in the road.

In the absence of facts, questions and speculation swirled about who the gun belonged to, whether it was reported lost or stolen and exactly how it wound up in the middle of a busy Mishawaka street — where something terrible could have happened.

Two months later, with the investigation completed, certain details — including the name of the officer whose gun was found — are still being withheld. The picture of what actually happened is still murky.

As recommended by Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski, the unnamed officer will receive a letter of reprimand and verbal counseling. The disciplinary action was discussed by the Board of Public Safety in its closed executive session on Wednesday.

According to a letter written by Ruszkowski to the board, the officer was negligent and did not appropriately secure or safeguard his department-issued firearm, which "fell from atop his vehicle and landed in a busy roadway."

The Tribune received a copy of the letter, after filing a records request, with the officer's name redacted. The city says it will not be commenting.

Because the unnamed officer is receiving only a letter of reprimand, the issue does not have to be discussed in the public session. If the officer had been terminated, suspended or demoted, the name would have to be released.

So both the city and the police department are well within their legal rights to cherry-pick the information they want the public to know.

But that doesn't make it right. And it surely doesn't further the cause of openness and transparency that Mayor Pete Buttigieg swears by.

This tight-lipped approach is also hard to square with a statement from city spokesman Mark Bode of nearly two months ago that the city recognizes that this is a serious matter.

The consequences could have been even more serious. You don't need an active imagination to think of what could have happened if that gun had landed in the wrong hands.

That this incident didn't have a tragic end makes it no less important to provide the public with a full accounting of what happened.

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The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. November 16, 2017

IU, Purdue help students connect with wider world

Indiana University deserves praise for its efforts to expose students to the world. And Purdue is doing well, too.

The Open Doors 2017 Report on International Educational Exchange ranked IU's Bloomington campus No. 7 among U.S. universities in sending students abroad to study. Purdue University was No. 23.

The report also ranked the Bloomington campus as No. 19 in the number of international students it hosts. Purdue was in the top 10 at No. 8.

According to an IU news release, IU Bloomington students visited 67 countries in 2015-16, the academic year covered by the study. In addition to those from the Bloomington campus, IUPUI students visited 46 countries the same year.

Why is study abroad important? Because it lets students learn about other nations and cultures. It allows students to build relationships that will last a lifetime. It provides students perspectives on international issues they wouldn't have gotten otherwise. It teaches life skills such as adaptability, flexibility and independence.

The opportunities for U.S. students, such as IU students, to study abroad and for international students to attend universities in the U.S. pay dividends beyond these individual benefits. As important as anything, they promote understanding between people that goes well beyond rhetoric between governments.

We should all support that.

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