At Children’s Rights, we see common threads when we examine the failings of foster care systems. The stories from young people across the country are, at times, harrowingly similar.
The parallels between South Carolina and Arizona became evident as we researched child welfare in those states. Both are falling far short when it comes to recruiting desperately needed foster homes (see “In Focus: No Place to Call Home”). They are severely remiss in providing health care that is both mandated and critical — particularly therapeutic services. And they need to do more to preserve families, whether it be keeping siblings together in foster care, or ensuring that kids are close to their biological homes.
Perhaps most disturbing of all, officials in both states have been aware of these issues, and their detrimental impact on children, for years.
These deficiencies led to Children’s Rights filing two federal class actions — one with South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center and Wyche P.A. partner Matthew T. Richardson on January 12, and one with the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest three-and-a-half weeks later.“When you watch officials repeatedly acknowledge that state practice and policy are actually harming already-traumatized children, there is no choice but to act,” said CR Litigation Director Ira Lustbader. “Failing to place kids in the right kinds of homes, failing to provide them with mental health care — this is extremely damaging to kids who are in desperate need of a safe haven.”
Of course, there are unique aspects to each state’s system. In Arizona, there are only about 400 therapeutic foster homes; meanwhile approximately 1,000 teenagers in foster care have been clinically diagnosed as emotionally disturbed. State data shows that, between October 2010 and March 2013, over a thousand investigations into reports of maltreatment in state care had not been completed on time. And as of September 2013, the state failed to place all siblings together at least a third of the time.
As for South Carolina, its Department of Social Services has the highest rate nationally for institutionalizing children 12 and under, according to federal data. From 2007 to 2012, the agency denied therapeutic placements to over 3,600 children whom the agency identified as needing them. The state also struggles with caseloads: According to a 2014 report, 58 percent of workers had excessive caseloads. Nineteen percent were assigned more than 50 children, and some workers were even responsible for over 75, though South Carolina standards call for a range of 14 to 20 children.
Since the time of filing, both states have considered budgets that do not go far enough to protect the kids in their care — and Arizona’s, which recently passed and has been cut by millions, actually stands to leave many more children vulnerable to abuse and neglect. As we await developments in both cases, CR remains certain that legal action is the best shot at improving the lives of young people in foster care who deserve and desperately need change.
Read additional articles in Notes from the Field, the Children’s Rights Newsletter: