Understaffing at Indiana Child Services Challenged

     INDIANAPOLIS (CN) – Understaffing at the Indiana Department of Child Services puts the safety of children at risk, a class of case managers claims in court.
     Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, lead plaintiff Mary Price claims that the department is neglecting needy children because it assigns caseworkers like her workloads that exceed statutory maximums.
     State law dictates that employees like Price are supposed to be responsible for no more than 17 children at a time, but Price says her current caseload is approximately 43 children.
     Caseworkers often work over 40 hours a week, but it is still impossible to fully attend to their cases, according to the complaint, filed Tuesday in Marion Superior Court.
     The department is in charge of protecting Indiana children from abuse and neglect, and for providing adoption and guardianship services.
     Price says these important roles cannot be met with current staffing levels and constant turnover.
     “The excessive caseloads and the difficulties they produce have made turnover among FCMs (family case managers) a serious problem as FCMs frequently leave to find employment that is less stressful and demanding,” the six-page action says.
     Staffing woes are not new for the department, having reported to the State Budget Committee last year that it would need 216 more caseworkers to achieve the state-mandated children-to-worker ratio of 17:1.
     While additional money has been appropriated to hire more caseworkers, it was not enough for the department to meet its required staffing levels, according to the complaint.
     “It’s not enough to simply pass laws that say we’ll do the right thing,” ACLU of Indiana Executive Director Jane Henegar said in a statement. “The purpose of caseload limits is the safety and welfare of vulnerable children. We expect government to meet the letter and the spirit of the law, providing children with the protections they deserve.”
     In addition to the department itself, DCS director Mary Beth Bonaventura is also listed as a defendant in the suit, although only by her title.
     Price seeks an injunction to force appropriate staffing levels, which may require more funding from the state Legislature to meet its own mandated goals.
     The class is represented by Kenneth Falk and Gavin Rose of ACLU of Indiana.

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