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Children's Rights Sues South Carolina
January 13, 2015 permalink
Children's Rights Inc is suing South Carolina alleging failings in its foster care system. This time they have another organization joining as plaintiff, South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center.
2 groups file federal lawsuit against South Carolina DSS
Two nonprofit organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday against South Carolina’s Department of Social Services, acting on behalf of children in the agency’s care.
The suit, filed by national child advocacy agency Children’s Rights and the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, argues, “As a direct result of longstanding, well-documented failures by DSS, Plaintiff Children have been and continue to be harmed physically, psychologically and emotionally and continue to be placed at ongoing risk of such harms while in DSS custody. DSS is re-victimizing the very children it is charged to protect.”
The suit names 11 children in DSS care as plaintiffs (represented by adult lawyers) but seeks reform as a class action on behalf of nearly 3,400 children statewide whom the suit describes as “abused and neglected.”
The suit cites numerous alleged problems at DSS, including “a drastic shortage of foster homes, excessive caseloads and a failure to provide children with basic health care.”
The 11 named plaintiffs range in age from 2 to 17 and collectively have lived in foster homes and institutions across the state. The suit alleges all have suffered neglect and abuse. Plaintiff Michelle H., 16, has been through at least 12 placements in about 8 years, including abusive foster homes, according to the suit.
DSS, according to the suit, also failed to provide plaintiff Ava R., 15, with necessary mental health treatment for 10 months and that Ava was denied her depression medication as punishment at a group home.
“Foster care is supposed to be a safe haven for abused and neglected children, yet South Carolina is re-victimizing the kids it’s supposed to protect,” said Ira Lustbader, litigation director for Children’s Rights. “There’s got to be accountability when longstanding systemic problems, like a severe lack of mental health services, gross over-reliance on institutions and high caseloads, continue to harm innocent children.”
According to the complaint, child maltreatment in foster care goes uninvestigated, inaccurate data masks a much higher rate of abuse and neglect in care than the state reports to the federal government, and caseworkers are so overburdened that kids suffer unnecessary harm.
“For the 25 years that I have been advocating on behalf of South Carolina’s most vulnerable citizens, DSS has continuously failed to make changes to ensure kids in foster care are protected and given proper treatment,” said Sue Berkowitz, director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. “Since South Carolina has repeatedly ignored its own admissions about the system, we have no choice but to act and demand reform.”
The lawsuit also states that DSS does not provide basic medical, dental and mental health evaluations and treatment as is require explicitly by law. It asks the court to assert federal jurisdiction and take action to fix the alleged shortage of foster homes, excessive caseworker caseloads and inadequate health care for children.
“We want to stop the Band-Aid approach,” Berkowitz said. “The problems have been known for decades and have not been fixed. We think it’s time for the court to step in.”
Gov. Nikki Haley and acting DSS Director Susan Alford are named as defendants in the lawsuit. Neither immediately replied Monday to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
Source: Cola Daily