A recent report by the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform shows Indiana is removing an increasing number of children from their families.
Coalition Executive Director Richard Wexler says while the Department of Child Services means well, it is removing too many Indiana children from the safety of their homes, particularly in cases where family poverty is confused with neglect, which Wexler says potentially endangers the very youths D-C-S is charged with protecting.
Wexler, says wrongful removal causes enormous harm to children and is is symbolic of a system in need of serious restructuring.
“It damages their psyche’s terribly, it can lead to abuse in foster care itself, it also overloads the Child Protective Service Agencies so they don’t have time to find the children in real danger,” he said.
According to the report, in 2007, nearly five of every one thousand Indiana children were removed from their families. That’s about 20 percent above the national average.
Dawn Robertson, spokeswoman for the advocacy group, HonkForKids, deals with families working their way through the family legal system every day. Her mission is not only to educate the families on what their rights are and how to protect themselves, but also to lobby to change laws that are not working effectively.
“In Indiana we’ve seen things deteriorating. Some partly because of the administration. Those that are in charge have been in charge for a long time, and are just unwilling to bend,” Robertson said.
“They have a mindset and a mentality, of the way that things should be done and so that is an uphill battle, we seem to swim upstream when it comes to that.”
The report says the influx of children brought into the court system costs taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year, arguing these children are overloading juvenile courts without adequate cause for an increased number of cases.
“There is nothing to indicate that actual child abuse has increased. So what has actually happened is, the state has been gripped by a ‘take the child and run’ mentality,” he said. “And as a result, those children suffer enormous emotional trauma. And are placed at risk in foster care itself.”
Robertson admits there are problems, but argues they’re not as numerous as the number of court cases would suggest.
“You can be talking physical abuse, sexual abuse, malnutrition, medical neglect, educational neglect and there are all sorts of common situations that cause children to be removed. Why we are here is because there are many false allegations,” Robertson said. ”There are a lot of children being removed from the homes that should not be removed…We see a lot of cases, where DCS overreacts and it is very disheartening when you see what these people are going through and simple things were DCS could be offering services to help keep families together.”
Robertson says there are ways the state could save money and keep kids in their homes…
“You can be dealing with a family that can’t afford to keep their electric on. It would be much easier to pay to help keep the electric on,” he said. “It would be much easier to pay the electric bill for a few months than to separate the children from the family. It is so costly to the state.”