Children’s Rights, Local Counsel Seek Remedy for Worst Failings of Rhode Island’s Child Welfare System

Following 1st Circuit Order to Remand Case, Plaintiffs File Amended Complaint; Address Systemic Failings, Including Overinstitutionalization, Unlicensed Homes, Caseloads, Abuse and Neglect in Care

(Providence, R.I.) – As longstanding, systemic failings within Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) continue to place vulnerable children in harm’s way, plaintiffs have submitted an amended federal class action lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island on behalf of the approximately 1,800 children in state foster care.

Describing in detail the major failings that continue to plague DCYF some eight years after the original lawsuit was filed, the 46-page complaint, submitted by national advocacy organization Children’s Rights, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and Rhode Island attorney John Dineen, calls for enforceable reform to alleviate caseloads, increase the number of foster homes, assure adequate licensing and investigative practice, and boost payment rates to foster parents.

“Sadly, children in Rhode Island foster care today continue to suffer the same harms that led to the initial filing of this case,” said Sara Bartosz, lead counsel at Children’s Rights. “The new administration has inherited a broken system. We now intend to secure an enforceable court order assuring that the glaring systemic defects placing children at risk are finally addressed.”

The amended complaint highlights data that describes the severity of DCYF’s flaws:

The complaint includes disturbing details about the lives of three children in state care, which highlight the impact of these shortcomings. Lead plaintiff Cassie M., who was separated from her siblings, was in numerous inappropriate foster placements, including approximately one year in the foster home of a woman who had already been flagged by DCYF as needing her license revoked. Her 6-year-old sister, meanwhile, was placed in two shelters for nine months. Cassie was freed for adoption seven years ago, but has bounced around foster homes and group homes and remains in state custody today.

The complaint also describes the life of Andrew, 9, who has been in DCYF custody since he was 4 years old.  He has been separated from his younger siblings, had one placement where his foster parent was unable to properly care for him, leading to his hospitalization, and he was sexually abused in group care. Subsequently he began to act out sexually, and DCYF has separated him from younger children, including his sister. Another child, Matthew, 11, has been placed in a kinship home with a registered sex offender, sexually abused by a child in another foster home, and separated from his two older siblings.

“It is shocking that any child should endure these horrors—let alone when the state is acting as parent,” said Rhode Island attorney and co-counsel John Dineen. “There have been multiple opportunities to take a long, hard look at the state’s systemic failings and create meaningful change, and it has been troubling to watch officials let every one slip by. The children of this state deserve and need much better treatment.”

The filing of Cassie M. v. Raimondo follows an April decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, which found that the district court “abused its discretion” in connection with its dismissal of the federal suit, and vacated and remanded the case for further proceedings. Advocates originally filed the class action, then known as Sam and Tony M. v. Carcieri, in June 2007.