INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Department of Child Services fired back Monday after nine foster children filed a class-action lawsuit last week alleging agency conditions that violate their civil rights.
Two of the children are from Allen County, and several of the plaintiffs have been in 10 or more foster homes over the years.
Terry Stigdon, director of DCS, spoke in a video posted online that is more than seven minutes long.
“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,” she said. “And we will continue to work toward permanency for every child.”
Stigdon also said the timing of the filing is puzzling considering the significant strides the agency has made in the last 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 And continuing to rely on an outdated inflammatory account is misleading and harmful to children and their families,” she said.
The lawsuit alleges that the state's DCS is failing in its duty to protect the 22,000 children with open child welfare cases, including 14,300 children who are in out-of-home care.
“Indiana removes children from their homes and places them into 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,” the court filing said.
Three organizations brought the suit on behalf of the children – A Better Childhood, a national advocacy group for children; Indiana Disability Rights, an organization that protects and promotes the rights of individuals with disabilities through empowerment and advocacy; and Kirkland & Ellis, a global law firm.
Stigdon noted a number of improvements at the agency since its former director resigned and called out Gov. Eric Holcomb for not providing enough funding or flexibility to protect children. A third-party consultant was brought in to analyze the agency, and changes have followed.
Some of the improvements include:
• A downward trend in the number of children in foster care and residential placements
• Better support for foster families, including new staff dedicated to connecting those caregivers to much-needed resources
• Change in policy allowing staff the necessary time needed to complete thorough assessments of allegations of abuse or neglect
• More manageable caseloads for family case managers and attorneys
• Increase in salaries for employees that better recognizes the complex work they perform on a daily basis
• An 18% drop in staff turnover.
Stigdon said the organizations behind the lawsuit didn't reach out to learn about the changes ongoing at the agency.
“Instead, we are surprised with public allegations that demoralize our employees just as they have begun to feel hopeful about the positive changes we are making,” she said. “These are far more than statistics. Behind each number is a child who is receiving better care than we provided even 12 months ago.”