The state Department of Child Safety has to defend how it handles the more than 14,000 children in foster care now and all those who will be there in the future.
In a unanimous ruling Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that most of the claims against the state should be handled in a class-action lawsuit. That means the agency will face questions on not just how it has handled the care of a handful of children who filed suit but whether its policies endanger others in the system.
Friday’s ruling does not force DCS to do anything – yet. Instead, it sends the case back to U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver who will hear evidence of the agency’s practices.
“It allows us to go forward with the case and prove the claim that the children who are in the foster care system are not receiving the services they need to be successful and they’re not being placed in appropriate living arrangements and they’re not being reunited with their families,” said attorney Anne Ronan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. She is part of the legal team suing the state.
And if the challengers win, it could force DCS to not just reform their practices but to hire more caseworkers to ensure that they are not overloaded.
There was no immediate response from DCS.
The lawsuit, first filed in 2015, claims that there is “a severe shortage of mental, behavioral and other health care services.”
It also alleges that DCS has failed to investigate reports that children in foster care have been maltreated. There also are claims of a severe shortage of foster homes and “failure to engage in basic practices for maintaining family relationships.”
The original lawsuit named 10 children as plaintiffs.
But in 2017 Silver agreed to allow the case to continue as a class-action lawsuit, effectively allowing those children and their attorneys to seek relief for not just them but everyone else currently in – and who eventually will come in – to the foster care system.
At a hearing earlier this year, attorneys for the state argued against class-action status, saying that reforms have been made since the original lawsuit was filed.
Attorney Rob Ellman also said that the problems faced by the original 10 plaintiffs do not represent the situations faced by all the children in foster care. And some of the original plaintiffs are no longer in the system.
But appellate Judge Clifford Wallace, writing Friday’s ruling for the three-judge panel, said handling the issue on a class-action basis makes the most sense.
As a threshold matter, Wallace said that B.K., who the court decided was a “representative class member,” had standing to sue. He said she has “serious medical diagnoses” that require prompt and adequate medical care from her custodian. And that is the state.
“She has presented evidence that she had not received adequate medical care or appropriate placements in the past as well as evidence that statewide policies and practices expose her to a risk of similar harms,” Wallace wrote.
More to the point, the judge said that the allegations about the effects of statewide practices are “common questions of law or fact” that can be litigated in a single case rather than each foster child having to file a separate lawsuit.
The key, said Wallace, is those statewide policies and how they affect care for not just B.K. but everyone else.
“B.K. has demonstrated, not merely through allegations but through raw data, expert reports, deposition testimony, and DCS materials, that she is subject to statewide policies and practices that apply equally to every member of the class,” the judge wrote. “By defining her claim based on the risk of harm caused by these policies … B.K. has demonstrated that class members have similar injuries, based on conduct that is not unique to her and caused by the same injurious course of conduct.”
And there’s something else.
Wallace said there are some common practices at issue here, including the excessive use of emergency shelters and group homes, the unnecessary separation of children, and placement of children far from home. Wallace said if the problems facing B.K. and others are caused by state policies, then “a single, indivisible injunction ordering state officials to abate those policies would provide relief to each member of the class.”
Ronan disputed the contention of DCS that things have gotten better for children in the foster care system.
She said there may be fewer investigations that are backlogged. And there are fewer children in the system now than when the lawsuit was filed.
But Ronan said these had nothing to do with the claims in the lawsuit.
“They were about the care the children received when they got into the system,” she said. “We haven’t seen a significant change in that situation at all.”
Ronan said there are still a lot of kids going into congregate care group home settings versus actual foster care. She said there still is a shortage of foster families and there continue to be problems getting behavioral health treatment for the children.
If you don’t pay it all along you will pay in the end to clean up what you short changed these children. Kudos , sometimes a law suit is what it takes to wake people up .
Yes know all to we the stories of foster care I was on until I immancipated self my children later on protecting them from racial abuse to my 3 children being raped in foster care to now my grandchildren the system is so broken …I even won three times in court all the while never knowing I was on some child abuse list registry????
Yes I Igree. The system in DCS is a Joke and is because is so hard to fight against it.
They don’t really focus on child safty. They focus more in making their parents in taking so many classes that they do not even know if parents really need them. I have a concern about my daughter. And they don’t give me any information about it. The case manager has not even visit my daughter’s placement.
Agree Jesus Martinez DCS truly r a joke. A joke that is not even funny no more. Those ******** needs to stop ******* with our children and lives sorry everyone for my language it’s just that I have had it tolerating these people.
It’s obvious to anyone who’s ever had to deal with DCS it’s a poorly ran Department that usually starts at the top. Supervisors cover up while caseworkers make major mistakes instead of making them accountable for their actions. The reason why so many children are in Foster care unnecessary is because caseworkers aren’t being trained, and not being encouraged to study the Procedure Manual to educated themself on DCS Policies and Procedures, there making rules up as they go. Management is not doing their job and hundreds of children lives are being affected. On 08/22/19 in the middle of the nite Program Supv came to remove my grandson from home her excuse was father was visiting to late she had a court order signed by a judge. I told her it doesn’t indicate a time limit in the Procedure Manual she had to go check to see if it was true. Why didn’t she no this before a judge signed a order this is a prime example.
As a father with 1 child taken and zero of the paperwork handed to me when my son was taken, that oddly enough matches absolutely nothing that is stated. The place where he was taken, wrong. Who the child was with when taken (myself) wrong. The time he was taken, wrong. The case numbers are constantly changed. Everything is a falsify report that I am handed. They have evaluated and deemed me to 3 classes a week at 4 hours long and drug screening twice a week, all during times I am required to be at my job of over 25 years. I have lost so many of my work privelidges and have gone from making 70k a year to I will be lucky to break 35k by the end of this year. I can not hire legal help and am scraping by just to live. They have destroyed my career and still expect more even after proving I am not the responsible parent I obviously was capable of. I am so lost in this battle and don’t know where to turn. My 18 yrs old daughter, thank god they can’t touch her, has successfully completed high school just short of already obtaining her associates degree and is now attending community college to per-sue her dreams. I just had a premature baby 1month ago today with no reason to have a case opened against her. 100% healthy and drug free and I cannot take her home until I jump through more hoops for her. At some point this system must be taken down. A child is 6 times more likely to be abused in the states placement than if just left with the parent. Why do we allow this to happen to our babies? Until this happens to you, which I feel should not be playing out this way to me, you will not understand the significance of the trauma they are causing to the families involved. It is one thing to help and monitor an adult with a disease and another to rip children from the one place they will only feel unconditional love. I am on my knees and pleading for the end of all conflict and dream of a day of resolution… you have broken and aided in the loss of faith and goodwill of putting my trust in the state to do well on anyone’s behalf other than themselves.
I am looking for a lawyer to help get our grandchildren back from DCS. They removed them on false information. And The Detective closed the case do to being innocent. They still will not return. My grandson 5 years old was found in a bed with no clothes on and another kid in bed with him naked also. They are twins age 5 and never been away from there family. Our grandson is having severe brake downs emotionally crying to come home. They will not let us see them. We also want to file suite against DCS
I would like a lawyer my children were taken wrongfully. Back in 2015. During case overload. Dcs started making up what ever they could just to ckose the case not looking at children’s bedt interest.
Thomas rainwater you are so right. It is terrifying to know that all of our babies are being taken away and we’ve let it happen. This will hurt so many of them for the rest of their lives. How many people need to stand up against CPS to make this stop. I think it’s odd that in Florida they won’t take a child away from a parent because it can cause so much harm that can’t be undone yet here in Arizona they do it with no reason and if it was really for the best of the child why would the laws not be the same everywhere why is it what’s good for children in Florida isn’t good for children in Arizona. It should be the same in every state if thegovernment truly was doing this for best of OUR children.
Same garbage from DCS with my grandchildren being brainwashed and taken against our constitutional rights
DCS violated the constitution to remove my grandchildren against Family Court Orders. Juvenile Court Judge trashes Family Court Judge.
How do we contact these people involved in the lawsuit
DCS took my kids 5 days ago when they first got there they said they were not taking my kids then because my house was dirty and my AC was not working on top of that my ex made the report because he raped me I made a report about it and so he got mad andade a report to dcs they made me sign a paper that they said was signed by a judge that was a lie there is no judge signature And they also lied and said they were not taking my kids they just wanted to talk to me.yes my house was dirty but I got the whole house cleaned with in 2 days and the AC I got fixed with in 3 days and now they made it a dependency case :
My DCS case started out only suppose to being A 14day investigation and now It’s been A year in A half.My 1year old has been getting hurt since dcs took him from me.He even got hurt at their office no incident report or anything was made.Both Supervisors and caseworkers never respond to any of my messages,emails or anything.Please someone do something about these people.Most caseworkers don’t even have kids of their own so they will never understand the damage their doing to us by putting are kids with complete strangers.A person not being able to live their own lives is that really what you call child protective