Children’s Rights, along with co-counsel Perkins Coie LLP and the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, filed this case against Gregory McKay, in his official capacity as director of the Department of Child Safety, Cara M. Christ, in her official capacity as director of the Department of Health Services, and Thomas J. Betlach, in his official capacity as director of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. The class action, seeking reform on behalf of the more than 16,000 abused and neglected children in state care, asserts that Arizona has engaged in destructive practices that have exposed these children to “further physical and emotional harm and unreasonable risk of harm while in the State’s care.”
According to the complaint, four core deficiencies within the child welfare system are undermining children’s health, well-being and safety. For example, young people:
- Have no place to go. In September 2014 the state had only 5,669 spaces in licensed foster homes available for 9,418 foster children who were not placed with relatives. As a result, there are many instances when children sleep in DCS offices because homes aren’t available.
- Aren’t getting the medical, dental or mental health services they desperately need. There currently are only about 400 therapeutic foster homes; meanwhile approximately 1,000 teenagers in foster care have been clinically diagnosed as emotionally disturbed.
- Are losing critical family connections. As of September 2013, the state failed to place all siblings together at least a third of the time. They also place children far from their home communities. As of September 2012, only 31 percent of children were placed in the same zip code as the homes from which they were removed.
- Are at risk of abuse or neglect in foster care. The state’s own 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.
The suit asks the court to ensure that the state fixes these egregious failings, asserting that plaintiffs’ federal constitutional and statutory rights are being violated.
At the time the complaint was filed, there were 10 named plaintiffs, ranging from age 3 to 14.
When B.K. went into foster care for the third time at age 8, she had been diagnosed with PTSD, psychosis and anxiety. Despite her fragile state, she was separated from her siblings, put in a group home on an “emergency shelter” basis and was left there for two years. The state ignored her need for glasses, and didn’t address her limp or toothache for months. B.K. was denied consistent counseling and mental health services, even though she was hearing voices and threatened to hurt herself and others.
In his two and a half years in foster care, J.M. has lived in at least 13 places, including four different group homes within four months. As a result, he has attended five schools in two years, at one point missing 60 days of school. At times he had to travel six hours round trip for two-hour visits with his mother. He was approved for a therapeutic foster home, but none was available and J.M. had to continue living at a shelter for four more months before being moved to a non-therapeutic foster home.
B.T. has spent over half of his life in foster care, being moved through a series of foster homes, group homes, shelters, and hospitals. Even though B.T. has been diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, time and again the Department of Child Safety (DCS) has fallen short when it comes to affording him much needed psychological care. During his years in state care, B.T. has been separated from his siblings, denied visitation with them and has endured repeated educational disruptions.
A.A. entered foster care for the second time in 2011. He has been deprived of physical, dental and mental health care services. He also has been separated from his brother and denied visitation with him. While A.A. was living in an unlicensed kinship home with his aunt and uncle, they were using corporal punishment to discipline A.A.. While these facts were known to the state, it never investigated them. Despite his young age, A.A. has lived in two different non-therapeutic group homes since April 2014.
Brothers A. C-B and M. C-B and sisters J. C-B and D. C-B. have a goal of reunification — yet they didn’t see their mother for the first four months they were in state care, and initially were placed two and a half hours away from her home. They spent two weeks with their father, where they didn’t get visits from their case manager or behavioral health services, even though D. C-B and A. C-B were exhibiting sexualized behaviors indicative of possible sexual abuse. All four were denied trauma therapy for nine months, and still have had very few therapy sessions, despite a juvenile court hearing that mandated it. The children have been unnecessarily separated from each other several times, and to this day, J. C-B, the youngest, remains in a different foster home than her brothers and sister.
C.P. has been in foster care for less than two years, but the state has already moved him through eight schools and 11 placements. Over the past year, he has had only one sibling visit with one of his two sisters, and the state has repeatedly failed to provide him with mental health treatment. C.P. is finally in a therapeutic foster home after multiple hospitalizations for mental health care, but his health care providers have decided that he can’t get intensive therapy until he is in a more permanent placement.
J.C. entered foster care when he was 8. His behavior suggested that he had been sexually abused and he was placed in a therapeutic foster home, but then was moved to a non-therapeutic group home for seven months where his mental health immediately deteriorated. The state moved J.C. to his father’s home while DCS retained legal custody. His father did not take him to his therapy sessions, and after being removed from his father’s home due to a suicide attempt, J.C. disclosed his father had been hitting him with a belt.The state put J.C. in a non-therapeutic group home; he had to change schools and he had significant problems adjusting. In July, DCS moved J.C. again, this time to a therapeutic group home in another county, resulting in another school disruption. He is now in a therapeutic foster home.