Judge dismisses lawsuit over Indiana DCS caseloads

A judge dismissed a lawsuit Monday in which an Indiana Department of Child Services family case manager claimed she had an excessive caseload that put children at risk.

Marion Superior Court Judge Heather Welch said plaintiff Mary Price has no right to bring the claim under an Indiana law setting a maximum caseload at 17. There is no ground for the court to issue a mandate changing caseloads, and Price should take her complaint to the State Employee Appeals Commission, the 12-page ruling said.

Under state law, the DCS director "may employ necessary personnel to carry out the department's responsibilities," subject to state budget constraints and other factors, Welch said.

Price said in the lawsuit filed last July that her caseload at the time was 43 children, or more than 2-1/2 times the legally prescribed maximum.

"Under the law the Legislature passed it was decided that the judicial branch was not the proper place for this discussion. It ultimately is up to the people's elected representatives in the Legislature to determine resources for the DCS and up to the executive branch to manage those resources," said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, whose office represented the state agency.

The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. ACLU legal director Ken Falk said he was disappointed in Welch's ruling and will appeal it.

"The issue is whether the case managers have the right to raise this issue, and I think they do," Falk said.

Family case managers investigate allegations of abuse and neglect against children and handle ongoing case management for clients in the child welfare system. Price argued in the lawsuit that she and other family case managers struggled to keep up despite working more than 40 hours per week.

State officials have acknowledged DCS' failure to comply with mandated caseload standards. Agency Director Mary Beth Bonaventura said at the time the lawsuit was filed that her agency was handling more cases and a higher volume of calls to its child abuse and neglect hotline.

Gov. Mike Pence announced in August that Indiana's child welfare agency would hire another 113 caseworkers to deal with a skyrocketing number of abuse and neglect cases.

The DCS said it has seen a 26-percent increase in its caseload over the past year. The governor blamed much of that increase on drug abuse, particularly heroin addiction.

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