Categories
Oklahoma Press Releases

Oklahoma DHS Fails To Meet Key Requirements of Foster Care Settlement Agreement (1/8/20)

Oklahoma DHS Fails To Meet Key Requirements of Foster Care Settlement Agreement

Defendants have not developed therapeutic foster homes, are not operating in “Good Faith”

> Read Full Press Release

Categories
Press Releases West Virginia

Over-Institutionalization, High Caseloads, Neglect in Foster Care System Cited in Lawsuit Charging Gov. Justice with Violating West Virginia Children’s Civil Rights

Over-Institutionalization, High Caseloads, Neglect in Foster Care System Cited in Lawsuit Charging Gov. Justice with Violating West Virginia Children’s Civil Rights

Click to learn more about the case here.

(Huntington, West Virginia, October 1) – Twelve children in the West Virginia foster care system filed on Tuesday a federal class-action lawsuit against Governor Jim Justice asserting that the state’s child welfare system is failing to protect its most vulnerable and defenseless citizens.

Lawyers for the plaintiff children who range from two to 17 years old, cite a range of damning statistics and charge the state and its Department of Health and Human Services (DHHR) with failing to provide the necessary services that will protect these and the other 6,800 children in West Virginia foster care for whom the state is now the legal parent .

West Virginia suffers from the highest age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids in the nation and caregiver addiction and deaths from substance abuse are driving more and more children into the system. The lawsuit, Jonathan R. v. Justice, alleges these children are housed in temporary shelters, hotels, institutions or expensive, out-of-state for-profit facilities, where they never see their caseworker and are often subjected to abuse. Statistics tell the story:

  • Children are put into institutional facilities and group homes that ignore their needs, disabilities, and case history: 71% of teens aged 12- to 17-year-old are institutionalized
  • Children are shipped out-of-statebecause the state has too few appropriate beds: 327 West Virginia foster children are in out-of-state institutions around the country
  • The state has too few community-based mental health services: 39% of foster-children had a mental health diagnosis last year
  • DHHR caseworkers receive too little trainingand face impossible caseloads: 25% of all caseworker positions are vacant.
  • Children languish for years, largely ignored and left to “age out” of a systemwithout guidance or support: Only 33% of 19-year-old aged-out foster youth had a job.

Today’s lawsuit seeks a court order directing the fundamental reform of West Virginia’s long-neglected system.  The lawsuit names Jim Justice, governor of West Virginia, Bill Crouch, DHHR Cabinet Secretary, Jeremiah Samples, DHHR Deputy Cabinet Secretary, and Linda Watts, Commissioner of the Bureau of Child Welfare, a division of DHHR.

The suit is brought as a class action, seeking to represent all of the 6,800 children in foster care in the state, and focuses as well on three sub-classes of children:

  • 1,700 foster care who have disabilities, and are being discriminated against—the ADA sub-class
  • 1,600 foster children who are close to aging out of the system without any preparation for adulthood—the aging-out subclass
  • 3,400 children who are in kinship care, many in unlicensed homes, who are deprived of necessary services—the kinship sub-class.

The children’s action against DHHR is an opportunity to transform West Virginia’s child welfare system by addressing these problems:

  • West Virginia fails to provide children with stable placements– children are shuffled from facility to facility with little regard for stability and permanency.
  • West Virginia fails to provide necessary therapeutic services to children that they are entitled to them by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Caseworkers are unable to provide acceptable care because the state does not provide appropriate funding, leaves caseworkers with impossibly high caseloads, and does not provide adequate training.
  • West Virginia foster youth age out of care and often become homeless due to DHHR’s failure to provide transitional living plans. At age 19, 18% of aged-out foster youth experienced homelessness in the previous two years and, by age 21, 28% percent experienced homelessness
  • Children in the care of their extended families (kinship care) do not receive the same attention, funding, and care that other placements receive. A 2019 independent state assessment concluded, “it is not unusual that a relative/kinship caregiver will not see a caseworker after the original placement.”

The lawsuit was filed by three organizations, A Better Childhood, a national advocacy group for children; Disability Rights West Virginia, a statewide disability rights organization; and Shaffer & Shaffer, PLLC, a West Virginia law firm.

“Governor Justice is far from providing justice to the thousands of foster children most in need of it,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood.  “For years, the state has ignored repeated recommendations about how to fix the damaging West Virginia foster care system.  Children are being sent to institutions, placed in foster homes without any services, and abandoned by the state.  West Virginia has some of the worst child welfare statistics in the country, and the state can no longer use the opioid epidemic as an excuse to avoid responsibility for this shameful system.”

“The foster care crisis in West Virginia is not an issue that just arose in the last 4-5 years, it’s a systemic problem that has festered in the state for almost 20 years. The nominal effort put forth by DHHR to improve the system over this period of time hasn’t come close to working,” said Jeremiah Underhill, the legal director of Disability Rights West Virginia. “The children of West Virginia deserve a system that works.”

“Not only are we failing to provide federally mandated care, but we are also failing to prepare these children for what lies ahead and instead condemning many of them to a life of abuse and homelessness once they age out of foster care,”  said Richard Walters, a senior attorney with Shaffer & Shaffer, PLLC. “West Virginia’s foster care system has been broken for decades, it is simply unacceptable to say that we are doing the best we can with limited resources when we are talking about the abuse and neglect of young children in our care.  We must do better and this litigation is a step in that direction.”

After conducting an exhaustive investigation into the allegations made by the plaintiff children, and interviewing hundreds of stakeholders in the state system (foster parents, service providers, former foster children, former state employees, and lawyers who represent children) the three organizations concluded that a lawsuit was necessary in order to force reform and protect West Virginian children.

These six failures—present in each of the 19 children’s case files—contributed to the children’s extended stay in foster care and increased their risk of harm while in care.  They also result in New York City having one of the highest maltreatment rates in the country; a vast majority of contract agencies had maltreatment rates above the federal standard.

“ACS has abdicated its responsibility to the children in its custody,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, Executive Director of A Better Childhood. “It fails to ensure that the agencies with which it contracts meet even the most basic requirements of the law, and thousands of New York City children are thus experiencing protracted and harmful stays in a system that is fundamentally broken.”

“The foster care crisis in West Virginia is not an issue that just arose in the last 4-5 years, it’s a systemic problem that has festered in the state for almost 20 years. The nominal effort put forth by DHHR to improve the system over this period of time hasn’t come close to working,” said Jeremiah Underhill, the legal director of Disability Rights West Virginia. “The children of West Virginia deserve a system that works.”

“Not only are we failing to provide federally mandated care, but we are also failing to prepare these children for what lies ahead and instead condemning many of them to a life of abuse and homelessness once they age out of foster care,”  said Richard Walters, a senior attorney with Shaffer & Shaffer, PLLC. “West Virginia’s foster care system has been broken for decades, it is simply unacceptable to say that we are doing the best we can with limited resources when we are talking about the abuse and neglect of young children in our care.  We must do better and this litigation is a step in that direction.”

After conducting an exhaustive investigation into the allegations made by the plaintiff children, and interviewing hundreds of stakeholders in the state system (foster parents, service providers, former foster children, former state employees, and lawyers who represent children) the three organizations concluded that a lawsuit was necessary in order to force reform and protect West Virginian children.

# # #

 A Better Childhood, (ABC) is a national child welfare advocacy organization that represents abused and neglected children in dysfunctional child welfare systems. ABC also represents children in child welfare lawsuits in West Virginia, Indiana, Oregon, Minneapolis, MN, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas, New York City, and the District of Columbia. is a national child welfare advocacy organization that represents foster children in dysfunctional child welfare systems. .

Printer-friendly version of the press release
Categories
New York Press Releases

NEW YORK CITY FOSTER CHILDREN SEEK CLASS CERTIFICATION STATUS

NEW YORK CITY FOSTER CHILDREN SEEK CLASS CERTIFICATION STATUS

Click to read the proposed court motion and memo in support here.

The child advocacy group, A Better Childhood, and the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, today filed a memorandum of law quoting testimony from New York City and State officials and citing detailed reports from national child welfare experts that assert the City’s foster care system is not working as promised.

This brief, filed in support of class certification in the lawsuit Elisa W. v. The City of New York et al, was filed after Plaintiffs took numerous depositions and reviewed over one million pages of documents produced by the City and State.  Filed in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, the brief offers the most comprehensive examination to-date of how Mayor de Blasio’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), under Commissioner David Hansell, is failing to provide for and protect the 8,300 children in New York City’s foster care system.

This filing demonstrates—often in the actual words of city and state employees—just how wide the gap is between New York City’s policies and its practices for the treatment and protection of foster children. Furthermore, the filing demonstrates how Governor Cuomo’s Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) fails to oversee ACS and keep the City’s children safe from harm while in care.New York City currently has one of the highest maltreatment rates in the country for children in its child welfare system.

A core revelation of the brief is that the Improved Outcomes for Children (IOC) model, wherein ACS delegates day-to-day care of children to 27 Contract Agencies, is not working, and the city knows it. ACS conducts only cursory case reviews, has no minimum requirements for agency performance, no minimum requirements for training of agency caseworkers, and fails to impose consequences when agencies have consistently poor performance outcomes.

Nationally recognized social work experts from both The University of Michigan and The University of Maryland reviewed the case files of the nineteen child plaintiffs in the case. Some illustrative examples of what those children’s case files revealed are below.

These experts found that, even though the children were placed in different agencies with different permanency goals and life circumstances, there were six key case failures common to all of the children’s cases. The brief asserts that those six failures are likewise common to all 8,300 children in ACS’s custody. Those failures are:

  1. ACS and the Contract Agencies fail to document that they employ any type of matching process in placing children in ACS custody with Contract Agencies and in foster homes.For some children in ACS custody, this results in them being placed in homes that cannot meet their needs or homes that are dangerous or abusive.  Some children are placed in homes where they do not even speak the same language as their foster parent.
  2. ACS fails to ensure that the Contract Agencies engage in concurrent planning. Despite both law and policy requiring concurrent planning (i.e. having a backup permanency plan for a child) from the first day a child enters care, ACS fails to ensure that the agencies it contracts with comply with this requirement. Some agency representatives testified that they mistakenly believe that a child needed a concurrent plan only after that child had been in care for a lengthy period of time. The failure to ensure that this requirement is followed, or even known of, delays permanency for all children across the foster care system.
  3. ACS fails to ensure that the Contract Agencies take steps to ensure permanency for children. More than half of children in the New York City foster care system have been in care for longer than 2 years. Agencies do not follow federal law with regard to making final permanency decisions in children’s cases. In fact, New York State’s child welfare system ranks among the worst in the nation (48th) on permanency outcomes; New York City children account for the vast majority of “long stayers” (children in care over two years).
  4. ACS fails to ensure that the Contract Agencies adequately monitor services for birth parents and caretakers.By not adequately monitoring these services, ACS and the Contract Agencies extend children’s time in care because their parents either receive inappropriate services or fail to receive the necessary services in order for reunification to occur in their entirety.
  5. ACS fails to ensure that the Contract Agencies give special scrutiny to foster children in care for longer than two years. ACS’s own policy requires “special scrutiny” for these children, but many contract agency representatives were unfamiliar with the term and/or stated that their agency does not pay special attention to any child’s case regardless of how long the child remains in care.
  6. ACS fail to ensure that the Contract Agencies complete documentation adequately and timely.Case files are replete with untimely, inadequate, and cut-and-paste documentation. Without proper documentation, the Contract Agencies are unable to track parents’ progress, evaluate appropriate next steps for both parents and children or implement meaningful permanency plans. The lack of adequate documentation is unsurprising given that some new caseworkers are assigned cases before they receive any training at all. Neither ACS nor OCFS sets any mandatory training curriculum for its foster care workforce, and in the case that workers are trained, most agencies provide only two weeks of training.

These six failures—present in each of the 19 children’s case files—contributed to the children’s extended stay in foster care and increased their risk of harm while in care.  They also result in New York City having one of the highest maltreatment rates in the country; a vast majority of contract agencies had maltreatment rates above the federal standard.

“ACS has abdicated its responsibility to the children in its custody,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, Executive Director of A Better Childhood. “It fails to ensure that the agencies with which it contracts meet even the most basic requirements of the law, and thousands of New York City children are thus experiencing protracted and harmful stays in a system that is fundamentally broken.”

The city and state will submit their opposition brief (followed by Plaintiffs’ reply brief), and Judge Laura Taylor Swain will determine whether to grant the plaintiff children class action status.

Examples of three of the named plaintiff children’s stories are below, and expert reports with full descriptions of the cases are available upon request.

The T-C Children are four siblings who entered foster care when they were all under six. Despite being Spanish-speaking children, they were placed with English-speaking foster parents, who had a history of domestic violence. The children were removed from that home and the siblings were separated. Two of the siblings were removed from yet another home due to their foster parent’s medical neglect. Even though their birth mother completed her service plan approximately six months after the children had entered care, none of the children were trial discharged to her until after they had been in care for 2 ½ years, and one of her children was not trial discharged for over four years.

Ayanna entered care as a newborn and has spent her entire life in foster care—over 6 ½ years. Though her mother cannot even have unsupervised visits with her, due to her involvement in the violent death of Ayanna’s older sister, Ayanna has still not achieved permanency. Her case record has numerous examples of untimely and incomplete documentation.

Tyrone spent the first ten years of his childhood in foster care. He entered care as a newborn because his mother was incarcerated.  He was placed with in a foster home in which he was exposed to serious domestic violence and drug abuse. He was eventually removed from that home after five years, but was placed in a home with a foster parent who was not willing to adopt him. He was then moved to a third home. He was not freed for adoption until he had been in care for over five years, and spent over ten years in care before being adopted.

# # #

 A Better Childhood, (ABC) is a national child welfare advocacy organization that represents abused and neglected children in dysfunctional child welfare systems. ABC also represents children in child welfare lawsuits in Indiana, Oregon, Minneapolis, MN, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas, New York City, and the District of Columbia. is a national child welfare advocacy organization that represents foster children in dysfunctional child welfare systems. .

Printer-friendly version of the press release