DCS: Lawsuit Charging Failure to Protect Children Will "Demoralize" Staffers

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DCS: Lawsuit Charging Failure to Protect Children Will "Demoralize" Staffers

In video rebuttal, director accuses New York nonprofit of "cherry-picking" horror stories, ignoring agency's progress

(INDIANAPOLIS) - Indiana's Department of Child Services is firing back at a lawsuit accusing it of failing Indiana foster children.

The response from DCS director Terry Stigdon is unusual in a couple of ways. The state usually doesn't comment on lawsuits at all. And Stigdon issued not a statement, but a seven-minute video on the agency website. She accuses the New York nonprofit A Better Childhood of cherry-picking horror stories and painting a misleading picture of an agency she maintains has improved dramatically over the last year. She charges the filing of the lawsuit is "demoralizing" for agency employees.

A Better Childhood has filed at least seven lawsuits against child-welfare agencies over the last 20 years accusing them of not meeting children's needs. The federal class-action against Indiana describes a girl returned to a father who had molested her, a boy shuttled through 15 foster homes, and two sisters who cycled among 17 foster homes in two years, in between returns to an abusive stepfather. In another instance, the suit charges DCS has placed an autistic teenager in the adult wing of a long-term care nursing home, without contact with his brother and sister. The suit charges DCS's high rate of foster placements, and the length of time children spend there, adds to their emotional trauma instead of protecting them.

Stigdon notes the agency has reduced the number of children in foster care, and says the average foster child undergoes two placements. She says DCS is working to give foster children more permanency, and reduce the number of families caseworkers must deal with at once. A Better Childhood dismisses the changes as "minimal," and contends DCS is "focused more on statistics than outcomes."

House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) noted after the lawsuit was filed last week that House Republicans rejected a proposal this year to give make caseload limits a legal requirement. He says the suit reinforces the need to make the cap mandatory, and says the state's Child Services Oversight Commission should review the lawsuit's claims.

Department of Child Services director Terry Stigdon (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)

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