NH G.K. v. Sununu

New Hampshire


U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire
January 5, 2021
Focus Areas
Child Health, Families Together, Government Accountability

New Hampshire is violating the constitutional and statutory rights of older youth in foster care and putting children at severe risk of dangerous and tragic outcomes, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU of New Hampshire, Disability Rights Center – NH, New Hampshire Legal Assistance, Children’s Rights, and the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.

The complaint alleges New Hampshire is unnecessarily institutionalizing older youth in its foster care system who could receive mental health treatment and supports in their communities and live successfully with family members or with foster families.

The class action is brought on behalf of children ages 14 to 17 who are in the custody of New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), have a mental health impairment, and are in, or are at risk of being placed in, an institutional or other group facility setting (also called “congregate care”).

Defendants named include Christopher Sununu, Governor of New Hampshire, Lori Shibinette, Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Joseph Ribsam, Director of DCYF, Henry Lipman, Director of the New Hampshire Division of Medicaid Services, and Christopher Keating, Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

All older youth in New Hampshire foster care have experienced the trauma of removal from their home. As older youth are moved through New Hampshire’s foster care system, they experience severe emotional, psychological, and physical harms and are exposed to risks of harm. Many older youth are unnecessarily warehoused in institutional and group care facilities. They experience frequent moves from place to place and face grave outcomes upon exiting or aging out of the system at age, including homelessness, unemployment, and lack of educational attainment.

The class action seeks to require the state to make structural changes and measurable outcomes, all directed to dramatically improve outcomes for youth:

In addition to failing to place older foster youth in community-based family settings that will help them thrive, the complaint asserts that the state unconstitutionally denies older youth legal representation when placing them in restrictive group care settings and violates federal law by failing to adequately and timely provide and implement critical case plans.

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