Rhode Island (Cassie M. v. Chafee)
Children’s Rights, together with then-Rhode Island Child Advocate Jametta Alston, the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, and Rhode Island attorney John Dineen, filed this class action in June of 2007 to reform the long-failing child welfare system in Rhode Island. The federal complaint charges Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) with failing to ensure the safety and well-being of more than 3,000 children in state custody. Systemic problems cited in the lawsuit include:
- Children are frequently abused and neglected while in foster care. In five of the six years from Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 2000 through FFY 2005, Rhode Island recorded the single highest rate of substantiated child abuse or neglect occurring to children in foster care among all states that reported data;
- Children are too often placed in group homes, emergency shelters, and other institutions, even when such placements are not warranted by children’s individual needs, rather than in homes. In FY 2004, Rhode Island placed 36 percent of children in its foster care custody in group or institutional settings–almost twice the national average of 19 percent. In February 2007, DCYF placed 29 percent of the children newly removed from their homes in shelters, and DCYF placed a total of 48 percent in group or institutional settings. In FY 2004, DCYF placed 18.9 percent of children in its custody below the age of 12, for whom institutional placements are particularly damaging, in group and institutional settings;
- Children languish unnecessarily in foster care for years. DCYF fails to plan for adoption when children cannot be safely returned home, and places children in institutions and temporary placements, further lessening the likelihood that they will ever live with a permanent family;
- Children do not receive essential medical, dental and mental health services.
In April 2009, the federal court dismissed the case on narrow, technical grounds. Children’s Rights successfully appealed the decision in June 2010, reinstating the case. Rhode Island state officials resubmitted a motion to dismiss in November 2010 — resulting in a July 2011 decision denying that motion in part and ultimately allowing the case to once again proceed. Children’s Rights filed the Second Amended Complaint in February 2012, and discovery is currently ongoing.