DCS responds to suit over care provided to children

By The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — The head of Indiana's child welfare agency defended its work Monday, saying a federal lawsuit accusing the agency of failing to protect thousands of foster children cherry-picks "our most challenging cases to support a narrative suggesting this is every child's experience."

The lawsuit was filed June 25 on behalf of nine Indiana foster children by a group called Indiana Disability Rights, the national advocacy group A Better Childhood and the New York-based law firm Kirkland & Ellis. It alleges that the children have suffered serious physical and psychological harm under the Indiana Department of Child Services' care.

The suit, which seeks class-action status, also contends that the state agency has failed to protect 22,000 children with open child welfare cases, including more than 14,000 who are in out-of-home care.

In a video posted online Monday, DCS Director Terry Stigdon said the state agency has made significant strides over the past year, The Journal Gazette reported.

"It is easy to cherry-pick our most challenging cases to support a narrative suggesting this is every child's experience, when in reality the average number of homes a foster child lives in while in DCS care is two," Stigdon said. "And we will continue to work toward permanency for every child."

She also said that timing of the lawsuit's filing is puzzling in light of the strides the agency has made over the past year. "Put frankly, DCS is simply not the agency it used to be. And continuing to rely on an outdated inflammatory account is misleading and harmful to children and their families," Stigdon said.

The lawsuit's plaintiffs include Ashley W. and Betty W., 4- and 3-year-old sisters who have cycled through more than 15 foster care homes over 2½ years, including two episodes in emergency shelter care.

The plaintiffs contend that Indiana removes children from their homes and places them in foster care "at a staggering rate — more than double the national rate."

"While children are in DCS custody, Indiana fails to keep them safe, often placing them in inappropriate, unstable, or overly restrictive placements; fails to provide necessary support services and medical and mental health care; and fails to provide meaningful case management," according to the suit.

Mary Beth Bonaventura resigned as director of the agency in 2017, writing to Gov. Eric Holcomb that the state's system was operating "in ways that all but ensure children will die."




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