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Foster children sue DCS in class action suit

Ten children in the state’s foster care system sued the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana on Wednesday, alleging that the agency failed to provide for the children’s care and left them in placements known to be “dangerous.”

“DCS’s system failures are well-known to state officials, who have failed to act to address those failures. The lawsuit seeks a range of remedies, including lower caseloads, the development of additional, appropriate placements and services, and far better accountability,” a press release from the national nonprofit A Better Childhood said.

The case was referred to Magistrate Judge Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. and the court issued summons to the defendants on Thursday. The state has 21 days to reply.

Attorneys with A Better Childhood, SouthBank Legal and Kirkland & Ellis LLP are representing the children and pursuing class action status on behalf of all children in the state’s foster system. Defendants include Gov. Eric Holcomb and DCS Director Eric Miller.

The filed complaint includes a detailed account of each child’s experiences, noting places where attorneys believed DCS failed to protect the children such as unsuitable placements with caregivers who ignored treatment plans as well as not securing immediate therapeutic services for severely traumatized children.

All of the children named in the suit use pseudonyms. The children are between the ages of 8 and 16 and many have spent more than half of their lifetimes in the foster system.

A few examples include Joshua, a 16-year-old boy who has been in DCS custody for nine years. During that time, DCS bounced Joshua between 22 placements. Another young boy was reunified with his mother and then his step-father killed his brother.

The group filed a similar lawsuit in 2019 that ultimately was dismissed.

Caseworkers are in short supply and experience high turnover, according to the complaint, aggravating a child’s trauma following abuse or neglect. The complaint accuses DCS of prematurely closing cases as recently as 2021 to reduce caseload numbers in order to comply with an internal policy directing caseworkers to refer 50% of their cases for expedited closure.

The suit also claims that average time in foster care has increased by more than 100 days — 490 days to 596 days — since 2017 when former DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura retired in a blistering resignation letter to Holcomb calling then-Chief of Staff Eric Miller, “the greatest threat to this agency and child welfare.”

Miller was appointed to lead DCS in May 2023.

Additional accusations include filing petitions to terminate parental rights to meet a federal requirement but quickly dismissing them in a way that delays reunification or permanent placements as well as the over-reliance upon psychotropic medication and institutionalization of foster children due to a statewide shortage of foster homes.

“Children in Indiana are literally dying,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, the executive director of A Better Childhood in a release. “Tragically, the child welfare system in Indiana continues to ignore the needs of its most vulnerable children. It is critical that this agency and the state are held  accountable for what they are doing to the children they are required to protect. These children have nowhere else to turn and that’s why we are seeking the assistance of the federal court.”

This article originally appeared on Indiana Capital Chronicle.

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