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DCS worker’s lawsuit goes before appeals court

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The ACLU is asking the Indiana Court of Appeals to reverse a Marion County judge’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of case workers for the Indiana Department of Child Services.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit last summer, specifically on behalf of case worker Mary Price, who claimed caseloads were dangerously high and putting children across the state at risk of abuse.  Price said she was working 43 cases at one time.  Indiana law currently states that case workers should handle no more than 17 cases at once, and only 12 initial assessments.

In February this year, Marion County Superior Court Judge Heather Welch ruled in favor of DCS and said in her 12-page ruling, it was not up to the court system to keep caseloads at a manageable level, rather, the Governor and General Assembly.

In February, Attorney General Greg Zoeller issued a statement:

“We have great respect for child protection caseworkers, who perform a very difficult, stressful duty in addressing the urgent needs of abused and neglected children. We appreciate the personal commitment these professionals make on behalf of the most vulnerable young Hoosiers. Under the law the Legislature passed it was decided that the judicial branch was not the proper place for this discussion. It ultimately is up to the people’s elected representatives in the Legislature to determine resources for the DCS and up to the executive branch to manage those resources.”

ACLU attorney Kenneth Faulk presented oral arguments before the panel of three judges, asking the court to reverse the trial judge’s dismissal.

“The issue in the case at this point is whether those statues, which appear to be mandatory, they say shall and must, are in fact enforceable by the case managers,” Faulk said.

During oral arguments, attorney Frances Barrow argued on behalf of DCS, which is represented by Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office.

“And in fact, the plaintiffs don’t even contend that DCS is not taking all steps,” Barrow said.  “It’s not saying the agency is inefficient, or misusing funds, or failing to try to get additional funding from the legislature.”

Faulk wants the matter sent back to trial so that discovery could examine whether DCS is spending funding as efficiently as possible.  The appeals court could take several months to render their decision.  Depending on the ruling, each side could then appeal to the state Supreme Court.