Governor Pence names Lake County judge to lead child services

The welfare of Indiana's children was the subject of a hearing in February 2012.
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Governor Mike Pence has named Lake County Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura to direct the troubled Indiana Department of Child Services.

Pence said Wednesday that Bonaventura "is a strong leader who has an impeccable reputation of integrity and compassion for children."

The East Chicago native has been senior judge of one of the toughest juvenile court systems in the state, Lake Superior Court's Juvenile Division. Former Gov. Evan Bayh appointed her to that position in 1993.

She'll take over an agency roiled by new investigations into the agency's handling of abuse and neglect cases after several children died in troubled homes that had been reported to the agency. Lawmakers and children's advocates have blamed a centralized reporting hotline for "screening out" calls that should have been investigated.

The agency has come under fire for not doing enough to protect at-risk children. Critics point to DCS dropping the case of Carmen Ellis despite evidence of ongoing abuse. A month after DCS dropped her case, the young girl died, allegedly at the hands of her mother's boyfriend, and now both face charges in her beating death.

The former director of the Department of Child Services, Judge James Payne, resigned in September 2012 after criticism over his role in a case involving his own family. The abrupt resignation came as ranking Democrats called on him to step aside.

Democrats Tim Lanane, Vanessa Summers, and Gail Reicken called on the Indiana Inspector General to investigate reports that Payne allegedly tried to influence the outcome of a DCS case and custody battle involving his own grandchildren.

"We have not seen effective leadership under Director Payne," said Rep. Reicken (D-Evansville).

Calls for Payne's resignation began after the Indianapolis Star reported Payne's estranged daughter-in-law left his four grandchildren, all under the age of 13, alone in May of last year as she traveled out of state. An unknown caller reported it to the DCS hotline, opening a "child in need of services" investigation.

Despite his involvement, Judge Payne did not step aside as the director of the agency. According to the report, he fought to keep the children and even criticized his own agency.

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