Children’s Rights, along with co-counsel Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP, filed this against Deval L. Patrick, in his official capacity as Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; JudyAnn Bigby, in her official capacity as Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health & Human Services; and Angelo McClain, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF). The suit was filed on behalf of all children in DCF foster care custody and alleged violations of their substantive and procedural due process rights, their right to family association, and violations of the federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980. The stories of the lead named plaintiffs in this class action, who represent the class as a whole, illustrate the devastating effects of a broken system on the children it purports to serve.
Children’s Rights and co-counsel presented their evidence over the course of a 24-day trial in Boston in 2013. Children’s Rights presented an argument on appeal in the First Circuit on November 5, 2014. Among the issues described in the Appeal Brief and mentioned in the oral argument:
- In 2011, Massachusetts ranked seventh worst out of 49 reporting states for the rate of maltreatment of children in foster care. In 2010, 116 children suffered substantiated abuse or neglect in foster care, an average of approximately one victim every three days.
- In 2011 Massachusetts ranked 49th out of 52 reporting jurisdictions on the federal measure for timeliness of adoptions.
- From 2008 to 2011, only 43 to 50 percent of children in DCF custody received monthly caseworker visits, well below the federal government’s performance benchmark of 90 percent.
- In federal fiscal years 2010 and 2011, the rate of child reentry into DCF foster care custody — that is, children returned home who were re-abused and came back into foster care — placed Massachusetts 41st and 43rd, respectively, among reporting jurisdictions.
- Case plans for children in foster care, as required under the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, were often incomplete or entirely unavailable.
Argument on the appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit took place in Boston in November 2014. Children’s Rights received a judgment ruling in the favor of defendants in December 2014.
At the time the complaint was filed, there were 6 named plaintiffs, including Connor B. and Adam S.
Connor B. entered DCF custody at age six and was sexually abused repeatedly in his first foster care placement. Connor experienced four additional placement moves in his first year in DCF custody. Connor was, at age six, admitted to a locked psychiatric unit for 4 ½ months. During Connor’s incredibly volatile first 18 months in care, there were extended periods when he did not see an ongoing, consistent therapist.
Adam S. entered DCF custody after being subjected to physical abuse in an adoptive home. Shortly after his removal, he was hospitalized and then cycled through more than 20 placements. At one point, Adam was placed in a residential treatment program primarily designated for young sexual offenders, despite the fact that Adam had never exhibited such behavior. During this placement, Adam was brutally beaten in what was later discovered to be a “fight club” orchestrated by program staff.