9 children file civil rights lawsuit against DCS, governor

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Nine children in foster care filed a civil rights lawsuit Tuesday morning against the governor, head of the Department of Child Services and the department itself.

The children filed the lawsuit not just for themselves, but as a class action suit representing the at least 22,000 children in the DCS system who they say are left in "inappropriate, unstable or overly restrictive placements" and aren't given the medical and mental health care they need while in their foster placements.

As a backdrop, the case uses the scathing remarks former DCS leader Mary Beth Bonaventura made in her December 2017 resignation letter about dysfunction in and lack of support for the agency. She wrote that the system was set up "in ways that all but ensure children will die." Tuesday's lawsuit says DCS "continues to fail to protect children, and, in many instances, inflicts further trauma upon an already vulnerable population."

The lawsuit references the Child Welfare Consulting Group, which performed an external analysis of DCS. The children agree DCS did make some changes after getting that report, but claim the agency didn't do enough and "appears to be focused more on statistics than outcomes." The main problems CWG found were:

  • a higher rate of kids in foster care compared to other states;
  • high caseloads among DCS workers and attorneys;
  • high turnover rate among caseworkers who complained of a "culture of fear" within the agency;
  • a centralized approval process that delayed action;
  • inconsistent application of agency policy from county to county; and
  • an overall failure to meet federal standards protecting children who were repeat victims of maltreatment.

The CWG report was the sixth review of DCS in six years.

The only money the children asked for is court costs and legal fees. All other requests are based in improving the quality of care and service DCS provides, including:

  • capping case loads;
  • emergency evaluations of all children who enter foster care within 72 hours of placement, plus a full review within 30 days;
  • ban separation of siblings being placed in foster care;
  • annual case record reviews to make sure children are protected from maltreatment and placed in permanent homes - or reunified with their parents - in a timely manner; and
  • appoint a neutral monitor to make sure all of these requirements are being met.

WTHR reached out DCS for comment, but a spokesperson said they had not yet received notification of the lawsuit as of 12:30 p.m. Tuesday and they could not respond to a lawsuit they hadn't seen yet.