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In Resolving the Lawsuit, Officials Have Entered a Historic Agreement …With the Vital Purpose of Transforming Young Lives’
(Providence, RI) – Attorneys for plaintiff children in Rhode Island foster care, Governor Gina Raimondo and Dr. Trista Piccola of the Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) have agreed to settle a longstanding federal class action to greatly improve safety and support for children in state care.
“We applaud Governor Raimondo and Commissioner Piccola for entering into this historic agreement,” said Sara Bartosz, deputy litigation director for Children’s Rights. “On behalf of the children we represent, we are gratified that all parties have come to the table with the vital purpose of transforming young lives.”
National advocacy organization Children’s Rights filed Andrew C. v. Raimondo in 2007 with Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and Rhode Island attorney John Dineen on behalf of the some 1,900 children living in state custody. The lawsuit alleged an inadequate array of foster care placements, leading to an overreliance on congregate care; inadequate casework as the result of high caseloads; a failure to license foster families in a timely manner; and a failure to adequately investigate allegations of abuse and neglect in a timely manner.
These are among the issues addressed in the settlement agreement, which both parties have submitted to U.S. District Judge William E. Smith for approval. Under the agreement, the state will begin to work toward achieving benchmarks in 12 areas to significantly improve the treatment of children in foster care. These include:
- Not placing children in shelters. Children will no longer be put in short-term placements without therapeutic programming. Children in short-term therapeutic placements will have documented written approval for longer stays.
- Ensuring appropriate use of congregate care. Children will only be placed in group homes, residential counseling or residential treatment centers if the child requires that level of individual treatment or it is necessary as an emergency placement. For children placed in thesesettings, regular assessments must be performed to determine if congregate care is still appropriate for the child.
- Protecting kids through strong casework. Caseworkers will visit each child on their docket at least once a month and will file timely and complete case plans.
- Licensing foster families in a timely manner. The agency will complete kinship foster-home license applications in the appropriate timeframe.
- Properly investigating allegations of abuse and neglect. Reports of abuse or neglect in foster care are to be reviewed in a timely manner and investigations will be responded to effectively and completed within appropriate timeframes.
The settlement agreement also addresses kids receiving mental health assessments upon entering foster care; developing a plan to recruit and retain foster families; ensuring that siblings are placed together and that family connections are maintained; and ensuring adequate foster care maintenance payments.
A monitoring team comprised of the Office of the Child Advocate and an external expert will provide independent reporting on the state’s progress and verify DCYF’s performance.
“This is a win-win for the state of Rhode Island,” said John Dineen, a Providence-based attorney on the case. “The settlement provides a path for lasting change that reforms an agency too long in crisis, and gives our most vulnerable citizens the protection they deserve.”
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Children’s Rights: Every day, children are harmed by 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.
Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP is among the world’s most prestigious international law firms, advising clients globally on their most complex litigation, corporate, restructuring and tax and benefits matters. Weil’s award-winning Pro Bono practice implements the Firm’s deeply held believe that contributing to the legal representation of the less fortunate and unjustly treated in our society is among the highest values a law firm can hold. For more information, please visit www.weil.com.
John Dineen is a longtime civil rights attorney and advocate for the citizens of Rhode Island who has handled many plaintiffs’ issues in federal court.