INDIANAPOLIS -- The therapist from Fort Wayne was treating a 9-year-old girl, who confessed to her and to her mother that her private area hurt and that she was showering with her father.
Linda Hartley's statement to the legislative study committee on the Department of Child Services started calmly enough, but as her story continued, the outrage behind it became evident.
"I knew a phone call needed to be made, and I did," Hartley said of calling the DCS call center in February. "The intake worker took a sigh and said, 'Well, there hasn't been penetration and that's what we need. I doubt we'll be able to do anything.' "
"I desperately ask this committee how invested we are in our children in Indiana," the therapist said of that and other reports that weren't investigated. "I implore you to seriously and with our hearts take a look at what we have."
Hartley's was not the only emotional plea Wednesday afternoon in House chambers as more than a dozen people took their turn at a podium to address members of the panel about the abuse and neglect hotline that was centralized in Indianapolis throughout 2010.
Donna Baxter told the story of her family's frustration with DCS returning her grandchild to her drug-addicted daughter, as her husband, Bob, stood behind her.
She recalled when she and her husband were given custody of the baby at the age of 9 days old, already drug-addicted, malnourished, deaf, and with STDs in both eyes. At 18 months, the healthy, happy baby was "returned to the same danger," Baxter said. "I want you to hear the voice of my granddaughter, to listen to her, through us."
April Dach, another mother who said that as a registered nurse she has called the hotline for both professional and personal reasons, described long wait times for calls to be answered and also being told the case would not be assessed "because there was no penetration."
"They also told me, 'We're a reactive agency, not a proactive agency," Dach told the panel of hotline workers who were "unprofessional, opinionated and uncaring."
Those who testified included a woman who was abused herself as a child and determined to protect another child, but ignored. A Terre Haute mother had to stop several times to compose herself as she told the committee of her many, frustrating attempts to get help for her three children who are being physically and sexually abused by their father.
Another Fort Wayne children's therapist, Edith Kenna, said she, too, has seen more cases screened out. Of several reports she's phoned in this year, only one was investigated -- and that one because she involved a legislator to help.
Kenna said the decisions seem to be more and more fiscally motivated since mental health and other departments have been cut back over the last few administrations.
"To me it looks like some sort of turf war," she said. "I do not think the hotline works well. I am in favor of returning it to local control, where we could work together as a team."
Kenna told a reporter after her statement that she fears other professionals who work in the system will be reluctant to come forward, because now that DCS negotiates all contracts statewide, they fear more cuts in retaliation.
Amber Turientine, a former hotline supervisor who was quoted in a Sunday Tribune article about the hotline, told the committee of supervisor favoritism and "bullying" of the intake specialists who took the calls, leading to the 50 percent turnover of employees.
"That was my passion. We worked long hard hours," she said. "But if I can help with the change to make things better, that's what I have to do."
Maj. Robert Herr, a commander in the Bedford Police Department and a chief deputy coroner for Lawrence County, talked about his county's frustration with hotline issues earlier this year, such as long wait times, too many screenouts and the inability to call a local DCS employee when necessary.
In response to their concerns, Herr described a pilot program initiated by DCS Chief of Staff John Ryan a few months ago that allows law enforcement to contact a local supervisor or on-call worker in an emergency and sends all screenouts to a child protection review team and local DCS supervisor for review weekly.
"We're going in the right direction," he said.
But Teresa Etchison described her family's anger at a 3-year-old great-niece's death of a drug overdose and then DCS' refusal to protect other children in the same family.
"I not only believe that the telephone hotline should be reformed, I believe DCS should be reformed," she said angrily of a system she called deserving of federal investigation. "They are governing themselves. ... I've waited 18 months to be able to say this out loud:
"Fix your system."
Applause at those three words, enunciated slowly for emphasis, filled the House chambers.