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NH’s Foster Care System is Sued by the ACLU

New Hampshire’s foster care flaws brought to light in ACLU lawsuit.

A recently filed federal class action lawsuit brought by legal groups in New Hampshire contends the state “unnecessarily warehoused foster care teens in institutional and group care facilities instead of with families and has not acted in their best interests.”  Plaintiffs allege further, “Older youth under the custody of the Division for Children, Youth and Families are routinely denied placement in less restrictive foster home and family-based settings.  The state denies older youth legal representation when placing them in restrictive group care settings and violates federal law by failing to adequately provide and implement critical case plans.”

The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Hampshire, the Disability Rights Center-NH, New Hampshire Legal Assistance, and national advocacy group Children’s Rights, and a law firm.  against Governor Chris Sununu, Health Commissioner Lori Shibinette, DCYF Director Joseph Ribsam, New Hampshire Medicaid Services Director Henry Lipman, and the Administrative Office of the Courts Director Christopher Keating.  It has been brought before the U.S. District Court for New Hampshire in Concord and seeks to “force the state to provide legal counsel to youth in the system; prioritize the least restrictive placement for each child; and strive for access to community-based services for those youth.”

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

In citing 2019 data, the lawsuit contends, “New Hampshire reported to the federal government, 70.3% of youths in DCYF care ages 14 through 17 were housed in congregate care facilities, compared with the national average of 31.2% for the age group…During fiscal year 2019, only 7.7% of New Hampshire’s older youths with a mental health diagnosis were placed in a family foster home, compared to 47.2% of the nation’s older youth with a diagnosis.”

New Hampshire also relocated older foster children time and time again, “with alarming frequency,” the lawsuit said.  The lack of permanence, and what the suit calls “structural failings,” significantly disrupted their lives.  They were unable to meaningfully connect with family and friends.

“The teenage years are difficult for many children, but they are exponentially more challenging for children who have been removed from their parents due to allegations of abuse or neglect,” said Karen Rosenberg, a senior staff attorney at the Disability Rights Center. “These teens need to feel connected to their families, friends, schools, and communities to navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood.  Group home living, in contrast, unlawfully deprives children in its care of the community-based services

Gov. Sununu called the filing a “ploy” by Children’s Rights, Inc. to garner attention and stop the state from proceeding with recent systematic reforms to its foster care system.

“While some states have issues they need to address, here in New Hampshire we have made more progressive reforms to our state’s child welfare system than any administration in history,” Sununu responded.  He added, “The number of children entering out-of-home care is down after doubling between 2015 and 2018; the creation of a program in 2018 to assist with identifying homes for children legally free for adoption; and adoption stipends to help parents who adopt older youth through age 21, among other initiatives.”

Sources:

Lawsuit says NH has ‘warehoused’ foster teens in group care

ACLU, Disability Rights Center Sue State Over Treatment of Foster Care Youth

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