U.S. District Court dismisses 14-year consent decree

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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Nearly 15 years after a consent decree was ordered by the U.S. District Court Southern District in the case B.M., et al. v. James W. Payne, et al., the court today dismissed the decree.

The case was originally filed by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union in 1989 on behalf of the wards of Marion County and their parents because of child welfare workers' alleged failure to adequately provide services for families and children.

Before the case made it to trial in 1992, Judge William Steckler entered a consent decree with two key points - specific lower ratios of children to case workers and certain standards for case workers' training. The consent decree lasted 14 years because of the state's inability to comply with the elements of the decree.

Today, U.S. District Court Judge Tinder heard testimony from both sides of the case as to why the decree should be dismissed.

Kenneth Falk, ACLU-IN legal director representing the plaintiffs, said the system is not perfect, but the state is working to fix the problems. Steps the state has taken include the creation of the Indiana Department of Child Services and legislative funding and a law to maintain the low ratio of children to case workers, which will take affect next year.

"Since March 2005, the caseload standards have been constantly complied with," Falk said.

Judge Tinder, after hearing both sides of the testimony, said dismissal of the consent decree was fair, reasonable, and adequate.

"There is overriding public interest in settling. The funds (used for litigation) can be used for more important purposes," he said.

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