Indiana Catholic Conference
Victoria Arthur
March 24, 2019 // Diocese

Program pairs churches, child welfare workers to meet critical needs

Indiana Catholic Conference
Victoria Arthur

Keeping kids out of foster care is one of Doug Weinberg’s most important objectives.

For years, he led child welfare efforts for two state governments. But recently, his mission took on a more personal and targeted approach when he made a special delivery to a desperate family. The item in this case — a washing machine provided by Weinberg’s home parish, Holy Spirit at Geist in Fishers in the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana — represents far more than a means for handling the family’s laundry. Indeed, it could spell the difference in whether the children in that household stay with their parents or are removed due to hygiene concerns flagged by state authorities.

The catalyst for connecting this family’s need with an immediate solution is an innovative program Weinberg is helping to bring to Indiana and that is the focus of a bill that recently passed the state Senate. Among other provisions, Senate Bill 365 would provide structure and funding for the statewide establishment of CarePortal, an online platform currently operating in 19 states that pairs government caseworkers who identify critical needs with local churches that can meet them.

“Indiana is double the nation in the number of kids in foster care,” said Weinberg, who served as chief financial officer of the Indiana Department of Child Services from 2008 to 2013. “Of all children in foster care, about 90 percent are there because of neglect — not abuse — and most of that neglect is unintentional. It’s usually a byproduct of other issues within that family unit. If we work to address those needs — the kinds of needs that churches are so good at meeting already — we can do better at keeping families together.”

In this particular case, a teacher had grown increasingly concerned about the condition of one of her student’s clothes. She reported it to the child abuse and neglect prevention hotline. A DCS caseworker investigated, noted that the family did not have a washing machine, then logged the need into the CarePortal website being piloted in northeast Marion County and the surrounding area. Holy Spirit Parish had access to a donated appliance, and Weinberg delivered it.


Success stories like this could be replicated statewide if Senate Bill 365 passes the Indiana House of Representatives, according to the bill’s author, Sen. Andy Zay (R-Huntington). The lawmaker says that the public/private partnership represented by CarePortal can go a long way in addressing what he terms the “trauma and tragedy” of children being removed from their families.

“We have 30,000 children who are wards of the state, and 100,000 total who are displaced,” Zay said. “DCS has had an 80 percent increase in cases in the last four years. From the state’s vantage point, this is completely unsustainable. We must help DCS decrease their caseload and help families remain together, and to do that, I believe it’s essential to look at the DCS challenge through different lenses.”

Aligning DCS caseworkers and the faith community “at the moment of intervention” is what makes CarePortal so effective, according to Zay.

“Engaging the faith community in this challenge is a natural extension of the role of churches in their respective communities,” said Zay, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Fort Wayne, in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. “The kinds of services that are being provided through CarePortal are the things that our faith communities have always done.”

Although CarePortal engages churches of all denominations, Zay said that the Catholic Church — “with its structure and organization, has the opportunity to have a huge impact.” The Indiana Catholic Conference supports the bill.

“The Catholic Church has a 2,000-year-old history of responding to people’s needs,” said Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the ICC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana. “This program, by making connections between the needs of individuals and families and the services that are available within the community, is a win for all concerned.”

Wherever CarePortal operates in the United States, there is an implementing sponsor that serves as a bridge between DCS and the faith community. In the case of the pilot program in Indiana, that partner is Hands of Hope, an adoption and orphan care ministry based in Noblesville. The organization was co-founded by Suzy Roth, who is now heavily involved in recruiting additional churches in addition to the eight now involved with the pilot.

“We are trying to raise up an army,” said Roth, a member of Grace Church in Noblesville, one of the CarePortal sponsoring churches. In addition to Holy Spirit, other Indianapolis-area churches currently involved in the effort include Traders Point Christian Church and Common Ground Christian Church. “It’s really going to take a lot of people stepping in to make the impact that we want to see. The more churches we can get engaged, the more needs we can meet.”

Roth cites the recent example of delivering twin-sized beds for three young girls who had nowhere to sleep in their home — a factor that could have led to a move to foster care. She said that churches appreciate the careful vetting of families’ needs that takes place by DCS being involved in the CarePortal process.

For the pilot launched in Indiana in late January, Roth has worked closely with Weinberg, who introduced CarePortal in Nebraska after accepting a role as the state’s child welfare director. The program had come to his attention in numerous meetings with representatives of the faith community who were looking for more effective ways to identify and help people in desperate circumstances.

“The statement I heard over and over again was, ‘We have a congregation of willing and able people who want to help, but we just don’t know how to go about it,’” Weinberg said. Under his leadership, CarePortal was launched successfully statewide in Nebraska, and now he is advocating for the same in Indiana.

Zay said he hopes that in considering Senate Bill 365, members of the Indiana House will recognize that the technology and training associated with CarePortal is not only cost-effective to implement but will result in long-term savings for Indiana.

“We can implement this entire program in every county and every corner of this state for $600,000,” Zay said. “And by putting this program into place, we will avoid sending many kids to foster care.

“This is the purest form of public service,” he added. “We’ll be changing families’ lives and children’s lives.”

To follow priority legislation of the ICC, visit This website includes access to I-CAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network, which offers the Church’s position on key issues. Those who sign up for I-CAN receive alerts on legislation moving forward and ways to contact their elected representatives. To learn more about CarePortal, visit

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.