RI - Cassie M. v. Raimondo
At the time of trial in 2013, Cassie M. was 17 years old and had been in DCYF custody for eight years. DCYF moved her through numerous unsafe and inappropriate placements, subjected her to inconsistent, harmful contact with her birth mother, and separated her from her sisters. Although she has been freed for adoption for a number of years, she remains in DCYF custody in a non-family group placement.
Also as of the trial, Danny B. was 13 years old and had been in DCYF custody for nine years. While in care, DCYF placed Danny in a series of temporary, inappropriate placements, including one in which Danny asserts he was brutally sexually abused. Additionally, DCYF failed to provide timely mental health services to Danny, despite evidence that his psychological condition was worsening. Although Danny had been free for adoption since 2006, DCYF failed to find a permanent adoptive home for him for almost seven years, and in the meantime subjected him to several adoption disruptions.
United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island
STATUS: Trial Decision Vacated and Remanded to the District Court of Rhode Island by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (No. 14-1585)
FILED: June 28, 2007
Children’s Rights, Rhode Island attorney John Dineen, and international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP filed this case against the governor of the state of Rhode Island, the secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the director of the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (“DCYF”). The case was filed on behalf of all children who are or will be in the legal custody of DCYF due to a report or suspicion of abuse or neglect, alleging violations of their constitutional rights to substantive due process and familial association, and their statutory rights to adequate case plans and foster care maintenance payments. Among the issues described in the Second Amended Complaint and demonstrated at trial through exhibits and expert testimony:
- Children in DCYF’s care are maltreated at an alarmingly high rate. In recent years, children in foster care in Rhode Island were subjected to maltreatment at a rate more than three times the federal standard, and since FFY 2004, Rhode Island has ranked among the six worst states in the nation on this measure.
- DCYF overburdens CPS investigators with high caseloads and fails to timely complete investigations of maltreatment in care. Evidence shows that CPS investigators often have caseloads at least twice the rate of the highest professional standard.
- DCYF dangerously overburdens family service caseworkers. Evidence shows that up to 79 percent of caseworkers were assigned caseloads that exceeded the highest professional standard of 18 children, and thatup to 85 percent of children were in the hands of these overburdened workers.
- DCYF fails to ensure adequate and frequent caseworker visitation of children. In FFY 2011, 42 percent of children did not receive monthly visits from their caseworkers.
- DCYF lacks an adequate array of homes for children in foster care and places them in congregate care facilities at extremely high rates. As of January 2013, 31 percent of children in DCYF foster care were placed in congregate care.
- Children re-enter DCYF foster care at an excessively high rate. In FFY 2012, 19 percent of children in DCYF custody who entered an out-of-home placement re-entered DCYF custody as a result of additional abuse or neglect within 12 months of a prior episode.
- DCYF fails to place siblings together and to ensure visitation between siblings if they are placed apart.
- DCYF fails to provide children with case plans that comply with federal law. Case plans frequently fail to include information such as a record of the child’s immunizations or a discussion of the appropriateness of the child’s education setting, and are rife with outdated information.
- DCYF fails to make foster care maintenance payments that fully cover enumerated costs under federal law, with even the state’s own audit recommending that rates be increased substantially. In order to cover the entirety of the estimated cost of caring for a child, Rhode Island would need to increase the current board rates by 72 percent.
The district court declined to address Plaintiffs’ two Motions for Class Certification for nearly seven years , and instead ordered a trial be held on the claims of the individual named plaintiffs. This trial began November 2013 and the plaintiffs rested their case-in-chief in early January 2014. At that time, the defendants asked the judge to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiffs had not met their burden of proof. The plaintiffs responded with powerful evidence that Rhode Island children in foster care are exposed to numerous harms as a result of the defendants’ systemic deficiencies. Nevertheless, the judge ordered that the case be dismissed, denying relief to this vulnerable class of the plaintiff children. Plaintiffs appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals and argued their case on March 4, 2015. On April 21, 2015, the First Circuit threw out the decision dismissing the case, finding that the trial court had “impermissibly tilted the playing field” against the Plaintiff Children and sending the case back down to the district court for further proceedings.