New Hampshire’s lack of foster care was brought to light in the ACLU lawsuit.
A recent federal class action lawsuit filed by legal groups in New Hampshire alleges that the state has “placed unnecessarily stored foster youth in facilities and group facilities rather than families, and has not acted in their best interests.” Plaintiffs go on to claim, “Older youths under the care of the Child, Youth and Family Department are routinely denied placement in less restrictive nursing homes and family-based facilities. The state denies legal representation to older adolescents when they are placed in restrictive group care facilities and violates federal law by not adequately providing and implementing critical case plans. “
The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in New Hampshire, the Disability Rights Center (New Hampshire), New Hampshire Legal Aid and National Children’s Rights advocacy group and a law firm. Governor Chris Sununu, Health Commissioner Lori Shibinette, DCYF Director Joseph Ribsam, New Hampshire Medicaid Services Director Henry Lipman, and the Administrative Office of Court Director Christopher Keating. It was brought before the US District Court for New Hampshire in Concord in an attempt to “compel the state to provide legal assistance to the youth in the system; Prioritizing the least restrictive placement for each child; and seek access to community-based services for these youth. “
Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash
Citing 2019 data, the lawsuit states: “New Hampshire reported to the federal government that 70.3% of DCYF youth care facilities aged 14-17 were in community care facilities, compared to the national one 31.2% Average for Age Group In fiscal 2019, only 7.7% of New Hampshire older teenagers with a mental health diagnosis were admitted to a family nursing home, compared with 47.2% of older teenagers in the country with one Diagnosis. “
New Hampshire has also been relocating older foster children “at an alarming rate,” the lawsuit said. The lack of durability and what the suit calls “structural failure” disrupted their lives significantly. They were unable to connect with family and friends meaningfully.
“The teenage years are difficult for many children, but they are exponentially more difficult for children who have been removed from their parents on allegations of abuse or neglect,” said Karen Rosenberg, a senior lawyer for the Disability Rights Center. “These teenagers need to feel connected to their families, friends, schools, and communities in order to direct the transition from childhood to adulthood. In contrast, living in a group unlawfully deprives children of childcare from community-based services
Governor Sununu called the filing a “ploy” by Children’s Rights, Inc. to attract attention and prevent the state from pursuing recent systematic reforms to its care system.
“While some states have problems to address, here in New Hampshire we have reformed our state’s child welfare system more progressively than any other government in history,” Sununu replied. He added, “The number of children cared for outside the home has decreased after doubling between 2015 and 2018. the creation in 2018 of a program to assist in the identification of homes for children that are legally free for adoption; and adoption grants are designed to help parents adopting older teenagers up to the age of 21, among other things. “
According to legal proceedings, NH has “stored” young people in group care
ACLU, Sue State Disability Rights Center on Treatment of Nursing Adolescents