Advocates file lawsuit claiming DCS shortcomings harming children

An 81-page lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Indiana Department of Child Services claims the agency is failing to protect children and inflicting trauma by placing foster children in inappropriate, unstable or overly restrictive facilities and not providing the necessary medical and mental health care.

Indiana Disability Rights, along with the New York-based child advocacy group A Better Childhood and the international law firm Kirkland & Ellis, filed the lawsuit on behalf of nine Hoosier children, ages 3 to 16. The plaintiffs say they are seeking to stop the violations of their constitutional rights and transform the state’s child welfare system.

The complaint asserts the shortcomings of Indiana’s foster care system have been well-known for years, but the reforms made since the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group issued a report outlining widespread problems in June 2018 have not brought substantive change.

In particular, the lawsuit alleges DCS is closing cases that are not ready for closure and are not investigating cases. Moreover, the lawsuit says, the state has not adequately addressed the shortage of appropriate placements for children, leaving some in inappropriate and sometimes abusive institutional settings for long periods of time.

“Children come into the care of DCS having already experienced trauma. The failure of DCS to protect these kids from further harm is unconscionable, especially when much of that harm is due to DCS’s own failings," Melissa Keyes, legal director of Indiana Disability Rights, said in a written statement announcing the legal action. “That children with disabilities are being kept in overly restrictive institutional settings, that they are not being provided with adequate community-based services has certainly contributed to the developmental trauma these kids are experiencing.”

Along with DCS, the complaint also names Gov. Eric Holcomb and DCS director Terry Stigdon as defendants.

Contacted this morning, the DCS declined to comment, saying it has not yet been served with the lawsuit. However, the agency said when it is notified, its legal division will review the information.

Earlier this month, state officials this month reported significant improvement at the DCS, including less staff turnover and better compliance with caseload standards. Lawmakers made sizable boosts to the department's budget this year.

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