Arizona accused of exposing nearly 17,000 children to 'unreasonable harm'

Children’s advocacy groups have sued the state of Arizona over treatment of state’s foster children

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The Independent US

Arizona has been sued for allegedly violating the civil rights of nearly 17,000 children in the state’s foster care system by not providing sufficient health care or enough foster homes for the children.

The lawsuit, filed by children’s advocacy groups, also alleges that the state didn’t investigate some cases of mistreatment in foster homes and denied basic services to reunite foster children with their families, according to reports on the suit.

The case was filed on Tuesday in US District Court in Phoenix, Arizona on behalf of 10 children in the state’s foster system. Those children are being represented by Children's Rights, the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest and a Phoenix law firm.

One of the plaintiffs, identified as BK, was separated from her siblings and placed in an emergency shelter for two years, despite her showing signs of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and abuse, the lawsuit alleges. The state also allegedly failed to provide BK with glasses or care for a limp and persistent toothache.

Some foster children were forced to sleep in offices because they did not have homes, the suit alleges.

 “It is time that someone gives voice to the thousands of children in foster care who have no say about where they live, where their siblings go, or what happens in their future,” Kris Jacober, president of the Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents, said in a statement. “Children are still sleeping in DCS offices because there is nowhere else for them. They’re not receiving timely or needed mental health services.

“The children in this lawsuit represent thousands with similar stories. The state can’t simply bring them into custody and provide for them on the fly. We are responsible for their well-being.”

The defendants named in the suit are Charles Flanagan, director of the Arizona Department of Child Safety, and William Humble, director of the state’s Department of Health Services. Neither department responded to calls for comment.

Arizona is being asked in the suit to ensure that foster children have access to sufficient health care, that enough foster homes are available, that the children are allowed adequate visits with family and that the state conducts timely investigation into reports of mistreatment and abuse.

The state has struggled with a soaring number of children in its foster system, up nearly 80 per cent between 2003 and 2012. Children in foster care across the US fell by 22 per cent in that same period, the Wall Street Journal reported. Since 2012, Arizona’s foster population has jumped by more than 3,000 children, putting additional strain on the system.

In 2014, Arizona had a massive overhaul of its child-welfare system after it came to light that the state’s Child Protective Services agency had failed to investigate thousands of abuse and neglect reports phoned in to a state hotline.

 “This is emblematic of the ongoing dysfunction that plagues DCS and leaves kids at risk,” William Kapell, lead counsel for Children’s Rights, said in a statement. “It is unconscionable that even one child, already traumatized by being removed from home, would suffer again in the supposed safe haven of foster care.”


Follow Payton Guion on Twitter @PaytonGuion.