Advocates: Suit over unpaid subsidies emblematic of DCS' shortcomings

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

Adoptive families who’ve sued the state and likened the Department of Child Services to deadbeat parents for failing to pay promised subsidies to people who adopt foster children aren’t alone in feeling slighted, child and adoption advocates say.

“It is bringing a lot of hardship on a lot of families,” said Dawn Cooper, director of the Indiana Post Adoption Network. “It’s definitely an issue that needs to be fixed.”

Focus_foster_2014-0630_141113-15col.jpg Debra Moss of LaPorte displays photos of three brothers she adopted from foster care. Moss is the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit involving DCS’ failure to pay adoption subsidies. (IL Photo/Dave Stafford)

Cohen & Malad P.C. of Indianapolis last month sued DCS on behalf of about 1,400 Hoosier families that adopted special needs children from the foster care system and claim that they were denied subsidies that had been promised “if funding becomes available.” The suit contends those parents are owed more than $100 million.

Debra Moss of LaPorte is the lead plaintiff in the class action and an adoptive mother of three brothers in foster care. At a news conference recently, Moss said it was “heartbreaking” that DCS had returned hundreds of millions of dollars to the state treasury since the subsidy payments stopped being made in 2009.

“How is DCS any different from the birth families they had to be taken away from” for failing to support the children, Moss asked, comparing the agency to a deadbeat parent. She said she cares for her adopted children on her Social Security income and that the subsidy – about $18 per day per child – would allow her to better meet the boys’ needs.

The extra money might allow her to sometimes buy their clothes from places other than thrift stores, for instance. “I thank God I can sew,” she said.

DCS spokesman James B. Wide said in a response to inquiries, “We are aware of the lawsuit, however, it is our policy to not provide comment on cases that are pending or in litigation.”

In 2009, DCS assumed responsibility for making the payments from counties that had done so previously. The department later placed families on an adoption subsidy waiting list that said subsidies would be provided if funding became available. Meanwhile, from 2009 to 2013, DCS returned more than $236 million to the state, according to the lawsuit.

Attorneys said Indiana appears to be the only state that isn’t making payments to families as an incentive to adopt children from the foster care system. Cohen & Malad managing partner Irwin Levin said while Indiana claims a budget surplus, “they’re creating this surplus on the backs of these kids.”

At the same time, keeping children in the foster care system is costing the state more – $25 per child per day or more – compared with the subsidy that’s capped at 75 percent of the state’s care costs.

Attorneys also suggested the state’s failure to pay the subsidy is a factor in the adoption rate in Indiana plunging by 35 percent since 2009.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 38 of 50 states decreased foster care populations from 2000 to 2012, but Indiana bucked the trend. During that time, the total number of Hoosier children in foster care increased more than in any other state except for Arizona and Texas.

Focus_foster_bars.gifChris Morrison, executive director of the Indiana Foster Care and Adoption Association, said the allegations in the suit seem to reflect a culture within DCS. She believes DCS Director and former Lake Superior Juvenile Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura thinks adoptive parents should receive financial help, but agency attorneys who negotiate adoption subsidy agreements play hardball, often starting with the presumption that even parents who qualify are entitled to nothing.

Morrison said in some cases, attorneys have made adoptive parents “feel intimidated and ashamed for even thinking about attempting to get money.” She recalled a parent being told in one DCS negotiation that if she couldn’t afford to care for her adopted children that she should get a second job.

“Fiscal responsibility is one thing; slapping people in the face with this rhetoric is quite offensive, actually,” she said.

Most foster parents who would seek adoption have the experience to know how much a child’s care costs, and available subsidies often don’t cover the costs of care, Morrison said. Statistically, foster children are likely to be adopted by lower- to middle-income parents who are related to their adopted children a little less than half the time.

“We know these children have high levels of need, and it doesn’t go away just because they’re adopted,” she said.

Shelbyville attorney Mark McNeely is a former welfare attorney and a past chair of the family law section of the Indiana State Bar Association.

McNeely is currently representing a couple in their late 50s who applied for a subsidy to help raise a grandchild who is blind, deaf and developmentally delayed. They were denied.

“Hopefully, the state will reconsider,” he said. “At this point, it may take a strong arm of the court.

“There are a multitude of reasons we have these helpless children, and something really needs to be done,” McNeely said. “If we don’t help them at this point in life, we’re going to be paying their hospital bills, therapy bills, whatever bills they’re going to have in the future.”

Morrison said DCS’ posture has been counterproductive to efforts of her organization and others initiated more than a decade ago to encourage adoption of foster children, and as a consequence the population of foster parents available to adopt children has declined considerably.

“Adoption creates a better life for our foster children and for our community,” she said. “It prevents homelessness, it prevents institutionalization and it prevents crime. It’s a win-win.

“We practically begged people to adopt children out of the foster care system,” Morrison said. “Why wouldn’t we help them?”•


  • dcs is pathetic
    I have been trying to get my child the money she deserved for 6yrs .the dcs workers my children had were very lazy and not trained very good.just a paycheck for them.i was my childrens best advoacate. I never had trusted the system.the only other good person that really helped my child was the cassa.the 1st agency didn't incourage adoption was because they made 3 times the amount of money you received if you stayed fostering.even though I complained to the state about them,there still in business.i still believe in carma.

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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.