Florida Foster Care Suit Moves Forward, Federal Court Rejects State Agencies’ Attempt to Dismiss

Judge Says Complaint “Alleges in Unmistakable Clarity” that DCF Routinely Puts Children at Risk of Harm

Contact: Daniel Kessel, 646-216-3343, dkessel@childrensrights.org

A federal court in Tallahassee ruled on April 17, 2018 that a new class action civil rights lawsuit targeting specific failings in the Miami-Dade/Monroe Counties’ child welfare system should be allowed to proceed. Defendants had moved to dismiss the suit on the ground that “the complaint does not adequately identify a policy or custom” for which Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) can be held culpable.

U.S. Judge Robert L. Hinkle swiftly rejected this claim.

“The complaint alleges with unmistakable clarity that the Department routinely treats children this way,” the ruling states. “The complaint attributes this to structural deficiencies. A practice that is followed routinely, for child after child, is a policy or custom.”

The case, H.G. v. Carroll, was filed in February 2018 on behalf of the approximately 2,000 children in foster care in Florida’s “Southern Region” and asserts that the state has long failed to address a known drastic shortage of foster homes and lack of mental health treatment for children in the custody of Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF)—with dangerous results.

According to the complaint, children are frequently moved among homes and facilities, some 10, 20, 30, 50 or even 80 or more times. Children are kept in locked psychiatric facilities beyond the point of clinical need, simply because the state lacks an appropriate home for them. Children may also be subject to “night-to-night” placements, in which a case worker takes the child to a home or facility for just a night or a few nights, only to be taken back to an agency office and repeat the same cycle over and over again with barely more than the clothes on their back.

Additionally, infants and toddlers are warehoused in emergency shelters and group homes, robbing them of the family environment they desperately need. In at least two documented cases, children in state care tragically committed suicide after experiencing unsafe and unstable living conditions, including sexual abuse and placement instability.

“The court’s decision means this case can move forward,” said Ira Lustbader, Litigation Director for Children’s Rights. “These children are subjected to unreasonable risks of harm every day under DCF’s watch, and they deserve justice.”

The plaintiffs are being represented by Children’s Rights and international law firm Baker McKenzie. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief for alleged violations of their federal constitutional and statutory rights.

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Baker McKenzie: Baker McKenzie helps clients overcome the challenges of competing in the global economy. We solve complex legal problems across borders and practice areas. Our unique culture, developed over 65 years, enables our 13,000 people to understand local markets and navigate multiple jurisdictions, working together as trusted colleagues and friends to instill confidence in our clients. Our pro bono mission is to deliver first-class legal services to the underserved and disadvantaged by fostering an environment that encourages and promotes service and contributes to the well-being of the communities in which we practice and live.

Children’s Rights: Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.

 

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