The Indiana Department of Child Services is disputing allegations in Sunday’s Indianapolis Star that alleges Commissioner Judge James Payne tried to influence a custody case involving his grandchildren.
In the story Payne is accused of waging a behind-the-scenes fight against the agency and derail recommendations in a child neglect case involving his grandchildren. The Star story also included a slew of documents.
DCS Chief of Staff John Ryan released the following statement on the matter.
When the call came into the Hotline from law enforcement in May 2010 about his grandchildren being left alone while their custodial parent had taken a trip out of state, initially – for the immediate safety of the children – DCS did send out a family case manager to take the children, and they were placed temporarily with the Paynes (Judge and Terrie).
If you look at the confidential assessment report the Star posted online, you’ll see that the mother indicated to the case manager that she wanted the children placed with the parental grandparents.
When DCS and law enforcement were called to the residents, neither had any idea the children were Judge Payne’s grandchildren. We were crystal clear that we had to approach this situation in a manner that definitively separated Judge Payne’s professional role from that of his personal role as a grandfather.
After fact-finding by the court revealed this was going to be a CHINS we made phone calls to Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois to ask if any of their child-protective agencies could take the case. Unfortunately, none could do so. Illinois, however, did share a recommendation with us on how to manage it, given they have experience with high-level officials being involved in sensitive situations from time to time.
They recommended two retired, but licensed Illinois case workers. We then interviewed both and hired the second caseworker recommended: Sandy Downs. > Sandy is, as mentioned, a licensed Illinois case worker with years of experience in working directly with children and families in the field. We hired her on a contractual basis that ranged from June 2010 through May 2011.
In addition, we also reached out to the Office of the Attorney General to address the CHINS case, and manage legal matters associated with the case proceedings. As to Judge Payne’s involvement, it was strictly limited to being a grandparent of the children.
As you may recall from our presentation on Aug. 22 at the legislative study summer committee, DCS does follow the practice model across the board in placing children with stable relatives when possible. Given the children had lived with the Paynes for two years of their lives, and their mother had indicated she wanted the children placed with the Payne’s, placing the children with their grandparents was a clearly viable and appropriate option—rather than increasing their trauma by placing them with a foster family they did not know
The Hamilton County court agreed. Because the Paynes were temporary custodians of the children while the CHINS case was in progress, they were involved in the Child Family Team Meetings, and had interactions with the case manager and service providers – which is standard procedure for all CHINS cases.
The children’s mother and father also had regular interaction with the case manager, as well as service providers and other professionals associated with the case. We will not disclose the non-procedural specifics of this case, as we believe that all children – whether they are your children or Judge Payne’s children – are entitled to confidentiality under federal and state law.
But we will share that the children were returned eventually to the custodial parent from where they were removed. So to assert that Judge Payne influenced this situation with his professional position is false.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg has called for Payne’s resignation.