INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
The head of Indiana’s child welfare agency defended its work Monday, saying
a federal lawsuit accusing the agency of failing to protect thousands of
foster children cherry-picks “our most challenging cases to support a
narrative suggesting this is every child’s experience.”
The lawsuit was
filed June 25 on behalf of nine Indiana foster children by a group called
Indiana Disability Rights, the national advocacy group A Better Childhood
and the New York-based law firm Kirkland & Ellis. It alleges that the
children have suffered serious physical and psychological harm under the
Indiana Department of Child Services’ care.
The suit, which
seeks class-action status, also contends that the state agency has failed to
protect 22,000 children with open child welfare cases, including more than
14,000 who are in out-of-home care.
In a video posted
online Monday, DCS Director Terry Stigdon said the state agency has made
significant strides over the past year, The Journal Gazette reported.
“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,” Stigdon said. “And
we will continue to work toward permanency for every child.”
She also said that
timing of the lawsuit’s filing is puzzling in light of the strides the
agency has made over the past 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 And continuing to rely on an outdated inflammatory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,” Stigdon
plaintiffs include Ashley W. and Betty W., 4- and 3-year-old sisters who
have cycled through more than 15 foster care homes over 2¸ years, including
two episodes in emergency shelter care.
contend that Indiana removes children from their homes and places them in
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,” according to the suit.
Bonaventura resigned as director of the agency in 2017, writing to Gov. Eric
Holcomb that the state’s system was operating “in ways that all but ensure
children will die.”