INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – On Tuesday, a group of children filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, Indiana’s Department of Child Services and Indiana’s DCS Director Terry Stigdon.
The complaint, filed in the United States District Court’s Southern District, states “Indiana’s child welfare system continues to fail to protect children, and in many instances, inflicts trauma upon an already vulnerable population.”
In December 2017, former DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura resigned her position in a scathing letter. In the letter, Bonaventura said Indiana officials were placing children at risk “in ways that all but ensure children will die.”
Tuesday’s class-action suit, filed by Indiana Disability Rights, states “Indiana has long assumed responsibility for children who have been abused or neglected by their parents or caregivers. Yet, the system Indiana has created to protect these children, administered through its Department of Child Services instead often causes them further trauma.”
The suit goes on to state, “Indiana removes children from their homes and places them into foster care at a staggering rate – more than double the national rate.”
In 2018, DCS underwent a top-to-bottom independent audit of the department, by outside firm Child Welfare Policy and Practice group. In the days and months following the agency’s findings, DCS Director Stigdon and Gov. Holcomb promised changes.
In early June, Holcomb ceremonially signed two bills into law designed to overhaul Indiana’s child welfare system.
At the time, the yearly staff turnover within the entire department was down by more than 18% from 2017-18, Stigdon said. It’s down almost 19% for family case managers.
“This decrease in turnover is partly because of the supplemental funding announced by Gov. Holcomb last year,” Stigdon explained in early June. “Which was used to increase salaries for front-line employees, which in turn positively impacted employee morale.”
One of the bills earmarked millions of dollars to hire more family case managers and supervisors.
Tuesday’s suit acknowledges the state has made changes to the foster care system since the CWG report. However, the suit states those changes are minimal.
“The agency appears to be focused more on statistics than outcomes, by allegedly not investigating cases of closing cases that are not yet ripe for closing and without providing necessary services to children,” the suit states.
Within the lawsuit, pseudonyms are used to discuss the children involved.
Tuesday, Noelle Russell, deputy communications director for the Indiana Department of Child Services, said, “We do not have a comment on pending litigation. DCS has not yet been served with this lawsuit. Once the agency has been notified, the legal division will review the information.”
News 8 reached out for comment from Holcomb’s office and on Tuesday night had not heard back.