Child deaths continue despite DCS intervention

Child deaths continue despite DCS intervention

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Department of Child Services officials in Indiana are facing tough questions after a WAVE 3 News investigation found evidence indicating they're not doing enough to protect children.

One recent case is well known in WAVE Country.

Back in February, 3-year-old Alexis Arensman was a victim of homicide by battered child syndrome, a prosecutor said.

[PREVIOUS STORY: Prosecutor sifts through thousands of pages of Arensman documents]

Her mother, Cynthia Weigleb, had pleaded guilty to battery four years ago for breaking the leg and ribs of her 3-month-old daughter, who was Alexis'
sister.

Child Services took Weigleb's kids away, but she got them back.

This time, while Weigleb was wanted on a parole violation, living in a trailer with three other adults and five children, one ended up dead, another
in a hospital.

[PREVIOUS STORY: Death of Clarksville child called 'unnatural']

"It's horrific," neighbor Bill Hubbard said. "No child should have to go through the things that child went through that night."

How often does something like this happen? The Indiana DCS' most recent report listed 49 children in one year who died of abuse or neglect.

Like the Weigleb case, seven of the 49 deaths already had a history with DCS as victims of abuse or neglect.

"That means we did intervene, but somehow we weren't able to get things right in that situation," DCS Communications Director James Wide said.

Is Indiana doing enough to protect children?

In February, the same month Alexis died, our investigation found there were 2,520 reports of physical abuse on children statewide. But DCS "substantiated" 161, just six percent.

And in the Southern Indiana region where Arensman died, six of the 114 reports of physical abuse were substantiated, only five percent.

"The fact of the matter is when we go out and do an assessment, we've got to show that there is some serious endangerment or serious impairment to
a child," Wide said.

Wide and the DCS regional manager estimated that more than 90 percent of the state's abuse and neglect cases end in family reunification because that's
what state law requires.

"It's not necessarily what individual case managers believe is correct or what I believe is correct," DCS Region 18 Manager John Kaiser said. "We have to follow the law, which says we have to provide services to the family to see if the reasons that caused our intervention can be remedied."

Weigleb got her kids back despite her "battery" conviction, and despite Alexis' former foster family calling the abuse hotline.

"When I saw her with the bruise on the side of her face, I (thought) this was not from head banging," Connie Hubbard told WAVE 3 News this year.

Added Kaiser: "Certainly any time there's bruising to the face, especially in small children, that's one that's prioritized."

Still, state officials insist the emphasis is on reunification.

"There's data out there that shows kids do better when they're with their parents," Kaiser said.

Will hiring more case workers help? Indiana Gov. Mike Pence recently announced the hiring of 113 more case workers, on top of the 346 added the past
three years.

The problem is that they're losing 20 percent of their case workers every year.

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