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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?”•
 

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  • 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. A traditional parade of attorneys? Really Evansville? Y'all need to get out more. When is the traditional parade of notaries? Nurses? Sanitation workers? Pole dancers? I gotta wonder, do throngs of admiring citizens gather to laud these marching servants of the constitution? "Show us your billing records!!!" Hoping some video gets posted. Ours is not a narcissistic profession by any chance, is it? Nah .....

  2. My previous comment not an aside at court. I agree with smith. Good call. Just thought posting here a bit on the if it bleeds it leads side. Most attorneys need to think of last lines of story above.

  3. Hello everyone I'm Gina and I'm here for the exact same thing you are. I have the wonderful joy of waking up every morning to my heart being pulled out and sheer terror of what DCS is going to Throw at me and my family today.Let me start from the !bebeginning.My daughter lost all rights to her 3beautiful children due to Severe mental issues she no longer lives in our state and has cut all ties.DCS led her to belive that once she done signed over her right the babies would be with their family. We have faught screamed begged and anything else we could possibly due I hired a lawyer five grand down the drain.You know all I want is my babies home.I've done everything they have even asked me to do.Now their saying I can't see my grandchildren cause I'M on a prescription for paipain.I have a very rare blood disease it causes cellulitis a form of blood poisoning to stay dormant in my tissues and nervous system it also causes a ,blood clotting disorder.even with the two blood thinners I'm on I still Continue to develop them them also.DCS knows about my illness and still they refuse to let me see my grandchildren. I Love and miss them so much Please can anyone help Us my grandchildren and I they should be worrying about what toy there going to play with but instead there worrying about if there ever coming home again.THANK YOU DCS FOR ALL YOU'VE DONE. ( And if anyone at all has any ideals or knows who can help. Please contact (765)960~5096.only serious callers

  4. He must be a Rethuglican, for if from the other side of the aisle such acts would be merely personal and thus not something that attaches to his professional life. AND ... gotta love this ... oh, and on top of talking dirty on the phone, he also, as an aside, guess we should mention, might be important, not sure, but .... "In addition to these allegations, Keaton was accused of failing to file an appeal after he collected advance payment from a client seeking to challenge a ruling that the client repay benefits because of unreported income." rimshot

  5. I am not a fan of some of the 8.4 discipline we have seen for private conduct-- but this was so egregious and abusive and had so many points of bad conduct relates to the law and the lawyer's status as a lawyer that it is clearly a proper and just disbarment. A truly despicable account of bad acts showing unfit character to practice law. I applaud the outcome.

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