Ashley W. v. Governor Eric Holcomb

Plaintiffs: 10 foster children, aged 3 through 16, representing the general class of over 22,000 Indianan foster children. The lawsuit also includes one subclass, the ADA subclass, which represents thousands of disabled foster children.

About the Indiana Foster Care System

  • Indiana is failing to provide children in its care with stable, nurturing, family-like homes—a lack of foster homes mean children are placed based in what home is available rather than what home is suitable.
  • Frequent moves among homes and institutions increase traumafor children already removed from their family homes and often separated from their siblings, their school, and their community.
  • DCS is unable to meet the needs of the thousands of foster children with disabilities whose involvement in the child welfare system places them at a greater risk of institutionalization.
  • The child welfare system relies heavily on institutionalization, particularly for children with even minor behavioral problems, with children often placed in locked, restrictive, poor quality and jail-like facilities.
  • The system is not set up to provide children the necessary services and treatment they need—foster children’s medical, mental health, and physical needs remain unmet due to irregular, infrequent assessments and the lack of sufficient and available resources.
  • Overworked caseworkers struggle to make important but difficult decisions about the right services to provide—they face having too many children to serve, too few resources, and too little training.


Indiana fails to exercise sufficient oversight over its child welfare system and to take necessary steps to ensure that the DCS complies with federal law and constitutional rights of children. Indiana has assumed responsibility but failed to protect children by not providing necessary services nor placing them in safe homes and appropriate facilities. The result of these failures is that the Indiana foster care system devastates and permanently damages the children in its care.

Advocacy Goals

Ashley W. v. Holcomb requests that the court permanently prohibit DCS from subjecting the children in the general class and the ADA subclass to further harm and from threatening their safety and well-being through practices that violate their rights. On behalf of these children, the court is being asked to order appropriate remedial relief to ensure that defendants comply with the law and provide children with legally mandated services. On behalf of a class of over 22,000 children, we ask that the Court enforce these children’s constitutional, federal, and state law rights to be safe while in state custody and to grow up in a permanent family.


Here are some our of our plaintiffs, using pseudonyms

Ashley and Betty are four- and three-year-old sisters who have cycled through 16-17 foster care homes over a 2½ year period, including two episodes in emergency shelter care. After two years in care, DCS finally changed the girls’ permanency goal to adoption but then failed to meet statutory deadlines for terminating parental rights so a judge dismissed the DCS petition and the girls are now split up and residing in separate non-kinship foster homes.

Milo and Thomas are three- and five-year-old brothers who have lived in foster care most of their lives. At age one Thomas was removed from his mother’s care due to domestic violence and her use of methamphetamine. DCS later placed him back home for a trial visit but failed to monitor the family and his mother started using meth again, DCS removed Thomas and discovered then three-month-old Milo with severe scabies all over his body. Six Family Care Managers (FCMs) and four DCS attorneys have been assigned to the boys’ case, with two FCMs terminated due to inappropriate behavior. Parental rights were terminated, but the Court of Appeals reversed the order due to DCS’s severe mishandling of the case

Logan is a 12-year-old boy who entered Indiana’s foster care system over a decade ago when he was two years old, and has cycled through at least 15 placements, including failed pre-adoptive placements, emergency shelters, and residential facilities. It took DCS five years to free Logan for adoption, and he now lives in a locked facility in northern Indiana. He longs for a family who will love him, and not hurt him.

Sara is 14 years old and first entered foster care in Indiana when she was seven years old, due to her father’s sexual abuse. After several years in foster care, DCS returned Sara to her father, who again sexually abused her. After calling 911, Sara reentered foster care. DCS has placed Sara in at least 17 different placements, including a state psychiatric hospital, where she lived for three years. Sara currently lives in a private secure facility in northern Indiana.




Here are the subclasses:

The thousands of children in the General Class who have or will become a ward of DCS and who, because of a disability, are at a higher risk of being placed in overly-restrictive, institutional settings or are currently placed in overly-restrictive, institutional settings.

Case Documents