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Court Allows Lawsuit Challenging New Hampshire’s Systematic and Unlawful Treatment of Older Youth in Foster Care to Continue

Contacts: Children’s Rights: Camilla Jenkins, cjenkins@childrensrights.org, 917.971.1784; New Hampshire Legal Assistance: Sarah Palermo, spalermo@nhla.org, (603) 369-6650

(New Hampshire)–Yesterday the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire issued a ruling largely denying the State’s motion to dismiss G.K. v Sununu, permitting plaintiffs to pursue five of the six claims they raised.  The lawsuit, filed in January 2021, challenges systemic policies and practices that result in the unnecessary institutionalization of older youth with mental disabilities in New Hampshire’s foster care system.

The ACLU of New Hampshire, Disability Rights Center- NH, New Hampshire Legal Assistance, the national advocacy group Children’s Rights, and the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP filed this lawsuit on behalf of older youth in foster care 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”).

“We are pleased with the Court’s decision recognizing the validity of our clients’ claims and glad that the case will continue to move forward.  We will continue to fight for the rights of youth with disabilities in the child protection system,” said Michelle Wangerin, Youth Law Project Director at New Hampshire Legal Assistance.

Compared to other states, New Hampshire disproportionately places older foster youth in congregate care settings, which are known to have profoundly negative impacts on children’s social, emotional, and physical wellbeing.  In 2019, the majority (70.3%) of foster youth in the Granite State ages 14 through 17 were housed in congregate care facilities — the national average for this age group is 31%. New Hampshire’s older youth with mental health diagnoses fare even worse – in 2019, 90.5% were placed in congregate care settings compared to the national average of 39.8%.

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 About the ACLU of New Hampshire

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire (ACLU-NH) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to preserving the individual rights and liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.  ACLU-NH, founded in 1968 by a small group of devoted civil libertarians, is one of 53 affiliates of the ACLU Nationwide. Today the National ACLU is comprised of more than 4 million members, activists, and supporters. More information about ACLU-NH can be found at www.aclu-nh.org.

About Disability Rights Center – NH

Disability Rights Center – NH is New Hampshire’s designated Protection and Advocacy system and is dedicated to eliminating barriers existing in New Hampshire to the full and equal enjoyment of civil and other legal rights by people with disabilities. More information about DRC-NH can be found at www.drcnh.org.

About Hew Hampshire Legal Assistance

New Hampshire Legal Assistance is a state-wide non-profit law firm providing civil legal services to low-income and elderly New Hampshire residents who cannot afford a lawyer. Typical clients are families facing eviction or foreclosure, victims of domestic violence, veterans, at-risk children and youth who need an advocate to protect their rights, and other people with disabilities trying to access their benefits. NHLA maintains offices in Berlin, Claremont, Concord, Manchester, and Portsmouth. More information about NHLA can be found at www.nhla.org.

About Children’s Rights

Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.

About Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP

Founded in 1931, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP has been a preeminent provider of legal services for the past 90 years. With approximately 1,100 lawyers in offices on three continents, Weil has been a pioneer in establishing a geographic footprint that has allowed the Firm to partner with clients wherever they do business. The Firm’s four departments, Corporate, Litigation, Restructuring, and Tax, Executive Compensation & Benefits, and more than two dozen practice groups are consistently recognized as leaders in their respective fields.

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