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Foster children sue DCS alleging many are 'languishing in state custody'

Governor Eric Holcomb, DCS Director Eric Miller and the Indiana Department of Child Services are named as defendants in the lawsuit
Indiana Department of Child Services
Posted at 3:07 PM, Aug 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-18 14:26:12-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Nine foster children have filed a class action lawsuit against the Indiana Department of Child Services on behalf of 11,000 children in the state’s child welfare system.

The lawsuit, filed August 16 in federal court, alleges Indiana has failed to provide the children in its custody with “reasonable care and safety” which is a violation of the children’s rights under the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

Governor Eric Holcomb, DCS Director Eric Miller, and the Indiana Department of Child Services are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

“State and federal data indicate that Indiana’s foster children are languishing in state custody longer than ever before,” read the lawsuit. “The state’s refusal to correct these well-documented failures leaves Indiana’s most vulnerable children at substantial risk of serious and unconstitutional harm.”

A Better Childhood, a national nonprofit that files lawsuits on behalf of abused and neglected children, helped the Indiana foster children file the lawsuit.

“We filed the lawsuit because we believe children in Indiana are being seriously harmed by the practices of the agency at this point,” said Marcia Lowry, founder of A Better Childhood. “The caseloads in Indiana are too high. “Nobody can do a good job when they’re carrying too many cases. It’s not possible.”

The lawsuit includes an example of a 16-year-old boy who has been in DCS custody for about nine years and has been placed in 22 different foster homes.

The boy witnessed his stepmother die of a methamphetamine overdose, and the boy’s father is serving a life sentence for murder and drug trafficking.

The lawsuit alleges DCS violated the boy’s rights and caused additional trauma and suffering by failing to secure appropriate mental health treatment and ensure a stable environment for the boy.

“It’s had a devastating impact on these children,” said Lowry. “ They don’t believe there’s anybody who is going to protect them.”

A Better Childhood is pushing DCS to make changes including developing a policy that prohibits retaliation against foster parents.

“A lot of foster parents have pulled out of the system because it’s not a system that really focuses on the children,” said Lowry. “This is a system that retaliates against foster parents and providers. This is a system that is not about kids. It’s just trying to run as inexpensively as it can.”

The lawsuit alleges DCS fails to recruit and retain an adequate number of caseworkers, they leave children in limbo and delay permanency, they fail to maintain and update medical records for foster children, and over relies on institutional placements for children with disabilities.

WRTV Investigates has reached out to DCS and Governor Holcomb’s office for a response to the lawsuit.

A DCS spokesperson said the agency declined to comment.

"There is no comment on pending litigation," said Erin Murphy, press secretary of Governor Holcomb, in an email to WRTV.

This is not the first time DCS has faced criticism in the form of a lawsuit.

A Better Childhood filed a similar lawsuit against DCS in 2019, but the court later dismissed the lawsuit.

“We’ve done an enormous amount of research,” said Lowry. “We think this lawsuit has been very carefully crafted and is appropriate for federal court and we are hopeful the federal court will see it that way as well.”

DCS also settled a federal lawsuit earlier this year after an Indianapolis couple claimed the agency removed their children from their home under false pretenses.

The case was scheduled for a jury trial in October but was settled out of court for $1.375 million.

Read the full lawsuit below.