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Lawsuit over state’s treatment of foster children with mental illness will proceed

Monitor staff
Published: 9/12/2021 10:00:04 AM

A lawsuit over the state’s treatment of older foster children with mental illness will move forward after the United States District Court of New Hampshire issued a ruling Thursday denying the state’s motion to dismiss.

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of New Hampshire, the Disability Rights Center-NH and others in Jan. 2021, claims that the state’s foster care system unnecessarily places children with mental health disabilities in institutions – often in other states – rather than in foster homes or other lower stress environments.

According to 2019 data reported to the federal government, about 70% of kids 14 to 17 in the care of the state were placed in these institutions, far above the national average of 31%. For children with mental illness, 90.5% were placed in congregate care settings compared to the national average of 39.8%.

“Placement in congregate care prohibits traumatized foster children from forming meaningful relationships ... leading to toxic stress,” the lawsuit read.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, four children identified by their initials, claim that basic freedoms, like getting a snack or playing basketball, were taken away while they lived in congregate living settings.

The state argued the case should be dismissed in its entirety because attorneys did not provide sufficient evidence to argue the children’s rights were violated. The court disagreed in all but one case, allowing the plaintiffs to pursue five of the six claims they raised.

“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,” said Michelle Wangerin, Youth Law Project Director at New Hampshire Legal Assistance. ” We will continue to fight for the rights of youth with disabilities in the child protection system.”


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