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The case for more openness

Few Indiana judges have been as outspoken about problems in the state’s Division of Child Services as Peter Nemeth, who retired this week as judge of St. Joseph County’s Probate Court in South Bend, where he heard family court cases. In an interview with the South Bend Tribune, Nemeth said the public would best be served if records involving children were more open.

“(E)verything’s confidential, so nobody really knows what’s going on,” Nemeth said. “I have said for years that I think the days of confidentiality should be gone.”

Nemeth said that is particularly true of Children in Need of Services cases, where the court finds need for intervention because a child faces abuse or neglect.

“I think if citizens knew what was going on in their community, they might be able to respond much better and prevent some of these problems that reach a tragic end.”

And Nemeth noted that legislative and administrative changes in recent years have shifted much power from the courts to the bureaucratic Department of Child Services.

“I think frankly that the way the state set up DCS, they’re virtually omnipotent, there’s no check on them. Courts have been the check for years, but basically we were reduced to almost a subsidiary. You can’t place a child anywhere without their consent, you can’t do what’s in the best interest of the child because they don’t agree to it.”

Thanks to Nemeth for expressing the concerns other judges and people involved with protecting children have privately aired.