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DCS accused of failure to protect children in foster care in class action lawsuit

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By ALEX LI

Nine children in Indiana’s foster care system filed a class action lawsuit against the Indiana Department of Child Services, Director Eric Miller, and Gov. Eric Holcomb alleging that they are “failing to keep children safe”.

The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana on behalf of the 11,000 children in the state’s foster care system. 

“Children in Indiana are literally dying,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood, in a press 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.” 

The lawsuit alleges that the state’s foster care system put the children in situations the DCS knows are dangerous. 

“DCS’s systemic failures are well-known to state officials. Independent investigations have detailed DCS’s systemic failures for decades,” the complaint alleges.

DCS and Gov. Holcomb declined WFYI’s request for comment. 

The filed complaint details each child’s experience in the foster care system, using a pseudonym with the same first and last initials as their real names. The suit offers a list of what the plaintiffs believe to be DCS’s failures including “failure to recruit and retain an adequate number of caseworkers, failure to provide timely and appropriate medical treatment, and failure to implement measures necessary to ensure placement stability.”

Annabel, a 14-year-old girl, has spent nearly half of her life in foster care. The lawsuit claims that in the two years after her removal from her home, DCS changed her placement 10 times.  

Kimberly, a 15-year-old girl, was removed from her home when she was eight after her stepfather raped her. Since 2015, Kimberly has bounced between relative care and foster homes. Due to several systemic failures, the suit alleges, Kimberly was sexually abused twice after that. 

“In the six months following Kimberly’s sexual abuse — from August 2019 to February 2020 — Kimberly received no therapy or psychological evaluation,” according to the suit. In 2020, Kimberly received therapy that was insufficient to treat her.

Kimberly developed several mental health and behavioral issues as a result, according to the suit.

“As a direct result of Defendants’ actions and inactions, Kimberly has suffered and continues to suffer emotional and psychological harm,” the suit alleges. “Without relief, Kimberly will remain at significant [risk] of harm due to placement instability, lack of timely and appropriate services, and delayed permanency.”

In 2019, another class action lawsuit was filed against DCS, the director, and Gov. Eric Holcomb with similar allegations. Among that suit’s allegations: the agency isn’t equipped to handle the specific needs of children with disabilities and that it’s placing too many kids in psychiatric hospitals. 

The state tried to have the case dismissed and shield a lot of information from public eyes in late 2019. A U.S. District judge allowed most of the lawsuit to move forward in May 2020. Then, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case and asked DCS to implement sweeping changes to the state’s child welfare system last year.  

Alex Li is WFYI’s and Side Effects Public Media’s health reporter. You can contact him at ali@wfyi.org.

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