Indiana Sued For Breaking the Law & Making Child Protection Almost Impossible

July 24, 2015 in Adoption, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

instagram-amazinggrayce-catsA few years ago, Vice Presidential candidate and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels eliminated funding across the board for Indiana families adopting special needs children (after 500 adoptions by families promised these dollars for transportation, healthcare & education of their adopted children, were completed).  

Indiana then became the only state in the nation to place families adopting special needs children on a wait list rather than paying subsidies.

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At that time, I spoke with some of the 500 courageous families that had completed adoptions and watched as the funding they had been promised disappeared.  These were not rich people and the cuts placed these poor people and their special needs children in even more difficult circumstances.

Anyone with or knowing folks with special needs children knows full well how hard and expensive caring for them is.

Mitch redirected the few million dollars that had been set aside for these people and used the money to pay bonuses to people (mostly his political cronies) who cut funding from programs that helped people like these special needs children.

It hurt me to see how poorly the state responded to using special needs children in this act of political greed and cruelty.

Indiana’s next Governor, Mike Pence, made things even worse for the weakest and most vulnerable Indiana citizens, cutting more than 300 million dollars from state agencies, most of which dealt with poor, unhealthy, young and old people in need of services.

Today, the ACLU has sued the state for almost tripling the caseload of social workers (state law is 17 current condition is 43 cases per social worker).  The paper work alone to track 43 cases would take 20 hours/week.

Remember that there are tragedies that become inevitable when worst case families don’t find help or oversight within our communities.  It was in Indiana where 7 year old Christian Choate’s parents killed him in a cage after 12 visits from Indiana Child Protection.

There are dozens if not hundreds of other sad stories surrounding the nightmare that is how Indiana politicians treat at risk children and I don’t expect that will soon change even if this lawsuit is won.

Blaming social workers with giant case loads solves nothing and it is wrong to do so.  Blame the well paid people in administrative and policy making positions that don’t value children enough to speak out for bad policies or at least try to lobby for enough resources to save children from tragedy.

No one likes lawsuits. Lawyers are thought of badly by many people.  But in my years of observing how politicians never pay a price for ignoring the needs of people that don’t vote (children), there is a pretty strong argument for this strategy.

The upsides to lawsuits like this one are;

More information and transparency that result from information made public and the badly needed media attention abused and neglected children will get from coverage of the lawsuit (vulnerable children only make the paper otherwise when they die tragic deaths) and,

Uncovering of the decision making people stuck in high places defending a very broken system – like this statement from DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura;

“Lawsuits are distractions from the essential efforts underway to help children in need. Our commitment to Hoosier children is genuine and resolute, and we are 100 percent engaged in hiring more caseworkers and increasing training opportunities as directed by Governor Pence and the 2015 General Assembly. By July 27, we will have hired all of the newly-created positions for our 100 Family Case Managers and their training will then commence immediately. DCS is working diligently to bring help and hope to children affected by the tragedy of child abuse”, or this exchange that took place in MN after the death of 4 year old Eric Dean after 15 ignored reports of child abuse.

Note the “genuine and resolute commitment to Hoosier children” and “essential efforts” demonstrated by waiting until the ACLU sued the state to hire more social workers and this note from an article in the IndyStar August 2014 about subsidies to adoptive families that were eliminated by Mitch Daniels (only after the state was sued by La Porte resident Debra Moss); 

Gov. Mike Pence on Tuesday authorized DCS to pay subsidies to every family on its wait list and every family that adopts a special-needs foster child in the current fiscal year, at a cost of about $10 million, Bonaventura said.

“I’m excited,” she said. “This is a great day for children and families that adopt them.”

Indiana hasn’t paid state adoption subsidies to any new families since 2009, when the burden for funding the program shifted from counties to the state. Indiana was the only state in the country to place families on a wait list rather than paying subsidies, Josh Kroll, project coordinator for the Adoption Subsidy Resource Center for the North American Council on Adoptable Children, said in a court affidavit.

That situation is the target of a lawsuit filed in June by La Porte resident Debra Moss, who claims DCS failed to pay promised subsidies while returning roughly $240 million to state coffers since 2009.

DCS argued in a recent court filing that it hadn’t had the money to make such payments. On Tuesday, Bonaventura said Pence instructed her agency to pay the subsidies using money it would otherwise have to revert to the state’s general fund.

She said she couldn’t say why that wasn’t done under the prior administration, but she said the roughly $4 million that DCS returned to the state in the past fiscal year would not have been enough to fund the program.

Lynn Toops, of Cohen & Malad, the law firm representing Moss, said the timing of the announcement was telling.

“It is no coincidence that once we filed a lawsuit to force the state to keep its promises in their contracts, the state announces it will start paying to help these kids,” Toops said in a written statement. “We could not be prouder for causing the state to do what’s right.”

Toops said Indiana still needs to pay retroactive subsidies to the families that have been waiting since 2009.

“The state broke its promise to these kids, and it needs to pay them — the sooner the better,” she said.

All adults are the protectors of all children.  Some people just don’t get it – even some people in administrative positions overseeing the children we speak of.  That should not be.